The most recent footprints on the moon are 40 years old, and the next artificial mark on the lunar surface will probably be made by a robot’s wheels rather than human soles.
Many space scientists, engineers and politicians argue that this is a good thing. Most astronomers will tell you that virtually anything a human can do on another planet, a robot can do, only cheaper and without the risk of losing a life. But the battle between humans and robots for the starring role in the next chapter of space exploration is not yet settled.
“In what was really only a few days on the lunar surface, the Apollo astronauts produced a tremendous scientific legacy,” said planetary scientist Ian Crawford of Birkbeck College in London, author of a paper in the April issue of Astronomy and Geophysics. “Robotic exploration of the moon and Mars pales in comparison.”