The manned exploration of space is one of the defining achievements of humanity and should not be abandoned in favour of less expensive robotic missions after the Nasa Shuttle's last flight, the man who has spent the most time in space said yesterday.
The Russian former cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev said that suggestions that the age of manned space exploration should end with the demise of the Shuttle programme and US President Barack Obama proposing a freeze on Nasa's budget until 2016 are misguided because robots and space probes will continue to be poor substitutes for human space explorers.
Mr Krikalev, who holds the record for the amount of time spent in space – a total of 803 days, 9 hours and 39 minutes – called for future manned missions to the Moon and even Mars, saying that they would open up a new age of human exploration akin to the discovery of the New World.
"Columbus had a business plan to bring back spices from India, but it changed after he discovered America," Mr Krikalev told i, speaking 50 years after Yuri Gagarin's pioneering Earth orbit in 1961. "If you ask me does it make any sense to go to the Moon and beyond, sure it does. I'm sure there will be benefits from going beyond our habitable area to learn and study space."
Some scientists have argued that manned space flight is an expensive luxury and that intelligent probes and robots could explore the solar system far more efficiently at a fraction of the cost. But Mr Krikalev said that intelligent space probes and robotic explorers will never be as good as humans. "Sending robots can be very expensive and what is really important is the ratio between expense and result. If you have zero result, it doesn't matter how much you spend," Mr Krikalev said.