Humans on Mars? Forget it, opinion, Simon Ramo, LA Times
"But is this a worthy goal? It appears increasingly doubtful that an astronaut could accomplish something useful on Mars not already being done by robots at far less cost and with little danger to humans."
Proceedings from the NASA Administrator's Symposium: "Risk and Exploration: Earth, Sea and the Stars", NASA Administrator's Symposium, September 26-29, 2004
Session Three: The Stars (PDF)
Pages 178-179 [Mars Exploration Rover PI Steve Squyres] "I'd like to finish this on a slightly lighter note by telling you a story. We had a lot of discussion yesterday about humans versus robots. And as the robot guy here, I want to tell a story about the experience that I had that really taught me a lot about that particular topic. We were at first trying to figure out how to use a set of rovers on Mars to really do scientific exploration. The technology folks at JPL [Jet Propulsion Laboratory] built a wonderful little vehicle called FIDO. And FIDO was a great test rover - you could take it out in the field and you didn't worry about getting a few scratches in the paint.
We took it out to a place called Silver Lake in the Mojave Desert about 1997. And we went out there and it was the first time I had ever been out in the field. So I went out there with my team - a bunch of really high-priced geologic talent - some serious field geologists. And we got the rover out there and, of course, the rover breaks down. First time I've ever been out in the field, it's dusty, it's dirty, you know, the rover's not working. So okay, what am I going to do with all these bored geologists I've got on my hands? So I said, "Look, let's go on a geology walk. Let's go on a little field trip." So everybody got their boots and their rock hammers and their hand lenses and everything. And I picked up a notebook and a stopwatch. And we walked out to a nearby ridge where I knew there was some interesting geology exposed and we sat down - or rather I sat down - and they went off and they started geologizing.
And I started timing them. You know, how long does it take for Andy Knoll to walk over to that rock? How long does it take Ray Arvidson to pick that thing up and break it open with his rock hammer and look at it with a hand lens? And they were doing a lot of things that our rovers couldn't do, but I focused on the things they were doing that our rovers could do. And, you know, I did it as quantitatively as I could - this was hardly a controlled experiment. And when I looked at the numbers afterwards, what I found was that what our magnifi cent robotic vehicles can do in an entire day on Mars, these guys could do in about 30 - 45 seconds.
We are very far away from being able to build robots - I'm not going to see it in my lifetime - that have anything like the capabilities that humans will have to explore, let alone to inspire. And when I hear people point to Spirit and Opportunity and say that these are examples of why we don't need to send humans to Mars, I get very upset. Because that's not even the right discussion to be having. We must send humans to Mars. We can't do it soon enough for me. You know, I'm a robot guy. I mean, I love Spirit and Opportunity - and I use a word like "love" very advisedly when talking about a hunk of metal.
But I love those machines. I miss them. I do. But they will never, ever have the capabilities that humans will have and I sure hope you send people soon."