STYLE

Will We Ever Put Another Man On The Moon?

19/07/2011 11:34 | Updated 22 May 2015

Nearly two weeks after the start of an historic and emotional journey, the American space shuttle Atlantis will arrived in outer space (see the video below). This voyage, the last mission of the US's 30-year space shuttle programme, effectively marks the end of manned space exploration and the start of a robot-led discovery of our universe and beyond.

When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and delivered those amazing words in 1969, he could never have envisioned that that 42 years later, mankind would no longer be exploring the universe, all major resources would be pulled out of space travel and the important field work of understanding the planets around us would be left to robots.

A couple of exceptions remain, like the International Space Station (the Russians will keep it open until 2020) and possibly that the Chinese are venturing into space exploration, but on the whole, it appears the era of man journeying into space on state-backed missions is over. Robots are in and humans are out – except the very wealthy types who can afford to book a $200,000 (£120,000) seat on Sir Richard Branson's commercial space craft, Virgin Galactic, which began test flights earlier this year.

Lord Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, said a couple of months ago during an incredible lecture at the Hay Festival that space exploration had not nearly moved as fast as it should have done in the last thirty years – having been severely hampered by the huge cost and human safety issues.

Lord Rees went on to say that anyone wishing to visit space would have to find a wealthy individual to fund the adventure.

"I personally don't think future expeditions to the moon and beyond will be politically or financially viable unless they are cut price ventures spearheaded by individuals prepared to accept high risks," he said.

"These may have to be privately funded as no western government agency would expose civilians to such hazardous ventures."

Lord Rees spoke instead of future where the entire solar system will be explored and mapped by flotillas of tiny robotic crafts.

Despite the logic underpinning the decision for robots to boldly lead the way around the unknown parts of the universe, the end of manned space travel is a sad moment.

Think of all the books, films and TV shows obsessed with the idea of space and mankind's interaction with it. Armageddon, Apollo 13, Star Wars and even the budget BBC 2 comedy series Red Dwarf qualifies - we love the quest for the unknown and the idea finding life beyond earth.

Atlantis will land and take on its final assignment as an exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center. With one shuttle's grounding it feels like all that glory the world felt when Armstrong stepped out onto the moon has just disappeared.

We have romanticized space travel and the possibilities it holds for as long as we can remember and now only robots and rich tourist, will ever have the amazing, tantalisingly frightening chance to go where no man has gone before.

The end of manned space travel may be a large step for robots and potentially the progress we have all been waiting for, but it's a giant disappointment for mankind.

** Enjoy the magic of space exploration while you still can: Check out this video of the shuttle Atlantis as it undocks for the final time.

Emma Barnett is the award-winning Digital Media Editor of The Daily Telegraph. She writes about media, culture, technology and social issues and has a monthly column in The Sunday Telegraph. Emma is also a broadcaster, regularly contributing to BBC Radio 4, Radio 5 Live, BBC World Service, Sky News, ABC CNN and LBC. Additionally she has written for The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire Magazine, TimeOut London, The Stage Newspaper and Media Week. She can be found tweeting via @emmabarnett.

More:

Unfiled
Suggest a correction