Robots are not enough in the next big step towards the Moon and Mars

Robots are not enough in the next big step towards the Moon and Mars

Why is a human presence on the Moon or Mars necessary if robots can be sent? The astronauts who train on the island of Lanzarote, in the Spanish Atlantic archipelago, are clear: only the synergy between our ability and technology will lead to the “next big step”, which is none other than returning to the Moon, reaching Mars and, along the way, learn to be sustainable and efficient when it comes to creating air or fuel from a simple sample of water.

For astronaut Alexandre Gerst (Künzelsau, Germany, 1976), who holds the European Space Agency (ESA) record for time spent in space, 362 days, “there will only be success” if robots and humans come together, because although Machines are much more useful in hostile spaces and in uncertain situations, they lack something fundamental to space explorers: intuition.

“They serve well for pre-exploration work and to help us adapt. But humans are more intuitive, we understand the environment much better than a robot, we are faster at getting samples and distinguishing which ones are important, so in combination we are very efficient, “he says. Gerst in an interview.

The training, which takes place in the heart of the Santa Catalina volcano (Tinajo, Lanzarote), is carried out by ESA personnel and some members of NASA such as Stephanie Wilson, with many ballots to be the first woman to set foot on the Moon.

In this enclave, similar to many of the volcanic areas with which a team of astronauts from the Artemis mission -heir and successor to the Apollo missions-, geologists and other scientists simulate the exploration of the lunar surface, they rehearse what the collection would be like of stone samples.


“It’s best to think of the Moon as the eighth continent. It’s out there, unexplored, undiscovered… we’ve only been there six times. We’ve collected some rocks but we don’t know anything about the place. It’s our responsibility to go there, understand it better.” , build research bases and that this serves for knowledge”, reflects Alexander Gerst.

Asked if he prefers to step on the Moon or Mars first, he is clear: the Moon is a “much more attainable” goal, as well as a childhood dream. In his opinion, the terrestrial satellite is “like Antarctica 100 years ago”, a place “wide and empty to which it was risky to go” but that, in the end, “has been very worthwhile”.

“The geology of the Moon is very complex, in fact. We have a mixture of volcanic lava, highlands, rocks that can be found in some places on Earth and many craters that disturb the geology and that we can learn from,” explains the astronaut, who insists that the rocks of the Moon, “are an open book that serves to read the history of the Earth”.

In this sense, remember that lunar rocks are very old compared to those that can be found on Earth, since they can be up to 3,800 million years old, compared to the few million years that the Lanzarote volcanic soil offers, for instance.

Stepping on the Moon again will serve, he adds, to find out “perhaps” how the Earth’s atmosphere was formed or how life on Earth was produced. “That is the kind of thing that we will look for in the rocks of the Moon. And the next big step you can already see, it is on the horizon,” Gerst insists in reference to the proximity of the start-up of Artemis.


The director of the Pangaea course, the geologist Francesco Sauro, agrees with Gerst and points out to EFE that the human ability to make quick decisions and be able to come up with ideas on the fly makes them more flexible than any type of robot or rover.

“We saw it with the Apollo mission. What the astronauts brought in a very short time and missions was incredible. There is no possibility of changing it with a rover”, highlights this Italian scientist, who underlines the technological changes compared to the first visits to the satellite late sixties and early seventies.

“Now you can walk around with a small device in your hand, a telephone or a spectrometer, and know the chemical composition of a rock in real time. Everything is much more efficient and that will make visits to the Moon much better”, concludes Sauro , which also gives importance to the ability to change ideas or hypotheses in a very short time, on the ground, with expeditions of five or six hours on the surface.

Rachel Maga
Rachel Maga is a technology journalist currently working at Globe Live Media agency. She has been in the Technology Journalism field for over 5 years now. Her life's biggest milestone is the inside tour of Tesla Industries, which was gifted to her by the legend Elon Musk himself.