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Opinion
Faye Flam

The Machines Are Taking Over Space

Even the hardiest astronaut can't compete with robot labor. But there's a silver lining.
Real humans are so picky about oxygen and stuff.

Real humans are so picky about oxygen and stuff.

Photograph: SpaceX via Getty Images

People concerned about robots taking away jobs might want to consider where it’s already happened. Machines with varying levels of intelligence have quietly taken over the most glamorous, coveted and admirable job in the world -- space exploration.

It’s not that people can’t still be astronauts -- it’s just there aren’t nearly enough jobs for all the people with the desire and ability to do it. And in terms of gathering data, we can’t catch up to the robots, which have in recent years been plunging beneath Jupiter’s thick cloud cover and exploring the exotic moons of Saturn with their methane lakes and roiling ice geysers. At more then 11 billion miles from home, the unmanned space probe Voyager 1 has finally reached the edge of the sun’s “atmosphere” of solar wind particles and sampled true interstellar space.