"Cassini Saturn Orbit Insertion" by NASA / Public Domain

Robots, Not Humans, Are The New Space Explorers

Jul 8, 2019

By Joe Palca

When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon 50 years ago, it was an inspiring moment for people around the world.

But another kind of explorer is responsible for much of the modern enthusiasm for space exploration.

“Since the days of Apollo, the greatest adventures in space have been these robots that have gone all over the solar system,” says Emily Lakdawalla, a self-described planetary evangelist at the Planetary Society.

By “these robots,” Lakdawalla means the various robotic probes that have flown past planets, moons and asteroids — orbiting some, landing on others.

Astronauts do still explore space. The International Space Station is a remarkable piece of hardware. Humans have been living on it for nearly two decades. But as amazing as the space station is, excitement about it is relatively muted.

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