I’ve been reading about Newt Gingrich’s call for American bases on the Moon before the end of his second term. His heart is in the right place, but that mission isn’t going to happen. Few are willing to say it, but the real future of space exploration doesn’t include men.
The simple truth is once you leave the surface of the Earth it’s extremely difficult to provide a living environment that allows work. There is no walking in your shirtsleeves on a nice summer’s day anywhere but Earth!
Space is also big. Other planets are far. Other solar systems are crazily far even at the speed of light. Voyager 1 was launched in 1977 and it’s still within our own solar system.
NASA figured this out a long time ago. They send turnkey projects into space. A rover on Mars doesn’t need a driver. It arrives mostly assembled and finishes the job on its own!
NASA’s expertise could be scaled up to build larger projects deployed away from Earth. It’s possible there are commercial implications though I don’t see any.
Space travel without humans is no less meaningful. It’s a lot less romantic.