The human space imperative

We have a strong, if mythic, assumption that humans will move into space and, eventually, hop through wormholes from galaxy to galaxy. That whole notion may evaporate if we dismantle the space station and end the practice of sending humans into space. MIT Technology Review discusses “The Future of Human Spaceflight”:

Over the years, NASA and space advocates have put forward many reasons to justify sending astronauts into space. They have garnered support by offering something for everybody, especially the military and scientific communities; scientific progress, strategic superiority, and international prestige have been foremost among the promised benefits. On closer inspection, though, these justifications don’t hold up or are no longer relevant. For example, robotic missions are increasingly capable of scientific work in space, and they cost far less than human crews. Satellites launched on expendable boosters allowed the United States to achieve strategic dominance in space. And Cold War motives disappeared with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The article goes on to discuss how humans might continue to build into space, leveraging in-space refueling to reduce costs. I’ve tended to think that private commercial efforts will find innovative ways to make space travel workable and affordable. The vision is so strong with us now, via television and film (Star Trek, Firefly, Star Wars, Avatar, Spaceballs, etc.), that it seems unlikely we’ll put human space travel aside.