24 May 2012
Plenary 4: Human and Robotic Exploration: A Scientific Perspective
The 4th Plenary Session of the Global Space Exploration Conference addressed the importance of continued exploration of the Moon, Mars, and space, how these exploration missions will answer important questions about human existence, how our solar system was formed, and what our future exploration prospects may be. All of the panelists expressed the belief that international cooperation through robust national, private, and entrepreneurial space programs will be essential to these efforts. They were also in agreement that the international scientific community can provide a clear and credible vision for a global planetary exploration science roadmap, and that many groups have already invested significant time and resources to this very task.
• Julie Robinson, ISS Program Scientist, NASA, spoke about discoveries that exploration can bring us, breaking them down into three categories: Pure discoveries, discoveries that can only be made in space; discoveries made solely for Earth’s benefit; and discoveries made through space exploration.
• Stephen Mackwell, Director, Lunar and Planetary Institute, discussed the continuing importance of the Moon to space exploration initiatives and research, and how international interest in exploration of the Moon has blossomed in recent years, spurring seven separate robotic exploration missions to the Lunar surface. According to Mackwell, the important uses for the Moon are the ability to conduct pure radio-telescopic explorations of the solar system, free of the radio interference on Earth, and using the moon as the ultimate test-bed for robotic equipment, before it is sent deeper into the solar system. Mackwell stated that current robotic exploration of the Moon will give way to continued human exploration, and perhaps settlement, of the Lunar surface.
• Junichiro Kawaguchi, Senior Fellow, JAXA, stressed the importance of exploring near earth objects before the Moon, stating the Moon is old and we have been there, we should press on and make new discoveries. He provided a comprehensive review of past and present efforts to visit comet, asteroids and other small, near earth objects. Kawaguchi also advocated for the establishment of deep-space ports and way stations, which would serve crews traveling out to further exploration destinations in the universe, by storing food, supplies, and fuel for them to utilize along their journeys.
• Chris McKay, Senior Space Scientist, NASA, discussed the ongoing search for life in the Universe, but was swift to point that the life we are looking for is not the life we are familiar with, but rather is some form of other biological life quite different than ours. He discussed the importance of focusing this search on Mars, Europa, Enceladus and Titan, as all of those bodies show signs of the chemical composition, water and climate necessary for life.
The plenary was moderated by Pascale Ehrenfreud, Space Policy Institute, George Washington University, United States.