Space Probes versus Astronauts
I love that Elon Musk is trying to lower the cost to go to space. We have to get the cost to go to space down primarily because keeping all of humanities eggs in basket Earth is a perfect recipe for extinction; Either self immolation or getting killed by an unknown dreadful danger from the deep black out there beyond our sky.
It appears the cost to reach low earth orbit is coming down. Robert A. Heinlein said that low earth orbit is half way to anywhere and I'm pretty sure he was talking about either economics or delta V. However, I think the reality is that taking the first step into space on a path to give humanity options is the hardest in terms of risk versus reward. Do we spend public resources mitigating some vague, unknown risk or spend it on local problems.
Some contend that because the people who control the resources are too selfish to solve real problems and alleviate suffering, choosing instead to consume their money on their own lusts that we as a species aren’t worth the trouble of saving. As wicked and undeserving as some people seem to think of human beings, I argue we are still worthy of saving.
I think that’s what Elon had in mind when he set a goal to improve human life. Space X is an attempt to reduce the existential threat by reducing that cost to lift payloads to LEO and is by my standard, a worthwhile goal. In the first two minutes or so of this video, Elon outline his goals.
Currently though, we still have a huge pile of things to learn about space before moving into space permanently, but since resources are thin, satellites are in [wow I’m a poet and it didn’t know it]. Getting brave astronauts and space scientists in a bucket that’ll keep them alive to go to Mars will cost a ton; possibly more than all the satellites and probes we’ve already sent to Mars, combined. The arguments for supporting strictly robot probes versus manned flights are both good. The logic does demand the cheapest alternative because of the morality of spending funds on a manned space program when the world today has so many problems where all that cash should legitimately should go.
Unsurprisingly we've compromised, currently doing both satellite probes and manned space exploration. Compromise is probably the best option.
Honestly though the best reason for human presence in space is to amass human experience living there. We literally have uncounted interactions with our terrestrial environment every day and survive because humans have a body of knowledge how to interact with and control our environment to find food, shelter, and opportunity to procreate without with by shear Darwinian force humans would go extinct. The value of that body of knowledge surpasses the morality of expending resources to alleviate suffering because someday it is one-hundred percent certain that to ensure human survival we absolutely HAVE to live permanently in space; not just imagine doing so as in our science fiction.