In honor of the 45th anniversary of John Glenn's orbit, Dr. Porco has an op-ed piece in today's New York Times: NASA Goes Deep by Carolyn Porco (permalink; no registration required). The piece is definitely worth reading, and I commend it to your attention. The gist of her piece is that there should be no conflict between manned exploration and robotic exploration of the solar system, but that we should pursue them both as we move through the early years of the 21st century. In a way, she forgives the human race for abandoning manned exploration once we reached the Moon in 1969, as she points out that this is part of a pattern that has existed throughout history. But it is now time for us to return to the Moon, and this time to stay.
My hope is that Porco's vision of the future will come to pass. As she herself points out, her vision requires "adequate financing and a long-term cross-administration commitment that supports steady, uninterrupted progress." The cost of space exploration sounds large when presented as final budget numbers, but these numbers often pale in comparison to the amounts spent on other government programs. I hope the American people, and the citizens of the world, will make the commitment to reach for the stars. Because if we don't, in five billion years, all traces of our existence, that we were once here, the we mattered – all of that will be wiped out in an instant.