A well known SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) scientist recently made the following statement.
The standard thinking, that basic point being made is that it’s dangerous and costly to boldly go anywhere out there in person relative to staying gelatin powder at home. But sending out unmanned probes instead, probes which might be sophisticated enough to not only explore but reproduce themselves using resources discovered while exploring would like a cancer spread out more and more until they have covered every cubic mile of space. Maybe there’s just one ET; zillions of ET’s machines.
Perhaps ET and ET’s machines are one and the same. Even if there is but one ET race or civilization, there could be an abundance of ET’s machines (that’s standard thinking noted above), but all containing not just ET but lots of ET (that’s not standard thinking). Translated, if you want to ‘boldly go’ (i.e. interstellar travel), it may make more sense to be an actual part of the spaceship instead of just being a passenger. Better rocket propulsion might prove to be fairly irrelevant.
Premise: Exploring is in our very makeup. Humans do not want surrogates to do their exploring for them. It may be necessary, but it’s never enough. A photograph of Paris isn’t good enough – I want to see the Eiffel Tower for myself.
While a robotic probe discovered the location and wreck of the RMS Titanic, humans had to go to the time and trouble and cost to see and explore the shipwreck in person.
We don’t send an unmanned robotic rover to climb Mount Everest; we do it ourselves, even though it’s a very dangerous activity to life and limb.
I’m sure the scientists who guide the unmanned rovers on Mars are happy little campers; they would be even happier if they were on Mars in person.
Sending Pioneer 10 & 11; Voyager 1 & 2 out into interstellar space is all fine, well and good but wouldn’t you want to travel to, say the star Tau Ceti, in person? An unmanned probe (a descendant of Pioneer or Voyager) exploring Tau Ceti and sending you back data doesn’t generate quite the same thrill as being there up close and personal.
However, it’s difficult to get you to Tau Ceti. Your life span isn’t long enough to last the trip at projected interstellar velocities achievable in the foreseeable future, and in any event, you’d need massive life support infrastructure which adds lots of additional mass requiring lots of extra energy and thus cost to your journey. All up, too much mass, too much energy, and too much cost.
But, what part of you really needs to get to Tau Ceti? Does your big toe need to go? Does your liver need to get up close and personal with Tau Ceti? No. The only part of you that really needs to encounter Tau Ceti is your ‘inner you’, your mind, not the physical body part of you apart from that which houses the mind – your brain thingy. Alas, even your mind, your wetware, is part of your physical body (your brain) and it won’t last the distance from Earth to Tau Ceti.