So, in the 1960s we did it like that:
1. sending single, big spacecraft of very limited, one purpose capability and limited lifespan
2. not being able to re-use the spacecraft for other targets
3. no means of controlling the situation when something goes wrong at landing etc.
4. not being able to see the spacecraft from orbit
5. designing each spacecraft from scratch instead of reusing and further developing existing designs
All in all, this resulted in:
A. a lot of failed missions and wasted money and effort
B. only limited scientific results which usually required follow-up missions which still were inconclusive
C. very expensive missions that took years to develop and perished in seconds if something went wrong
We may have made some progress in some points with missions like MRO which can see ground spacecraft from orbit or even take snapshots of spacecraft landing in progress (Phoenix). However, this is still occasional "byproduct" and not a change in philosophy. Therefore, I'd like to suggest creating a more general thread about the specific issues listed in the first paragraph.
Let's face it, we still do relatively expensive planetary probes which still provide us only with limited "beachhead" kind of scientific results and do not have a lot of maneuvering capability nor planning flexibility.
Here are a few suggestions which I would love to see discussed by people who know more than me about space exploration technology:
1. first and foremost: no more single, big and expensive, heavy spacecraft
Instead of taking one big rover on board, we could take one small rover, one small airplane and a cluster of microbots designed for specific purposes - each providing valuable data in many areas simultanously and if one is dead, there are still plenty of others to continue the mission.
2. a spececraft already there is better than one on the drawing board
No more short lifespans. Each mission should be designed while keeping in mind that money for future missions and follow-ups may not be available. Accumulating a lot of data over a lot of time gives us insight into how things CHANGE over time on a given target.
3. no more fly-by expendable spacecraft
Flying by a planet to see what it looks like and letting the spacecraft then fly into oblivion may have been a good idea back in the early days but not any more. I tend to regard this kind of approach as extremely short-sighted, providing only short-term gains which do not balance the cost and effort involved. I think we need spacecraft that is finally able to MANEUVER itself, meaning it has its own propulsion of some kind, be it only a weak ion thruster.
This way we could actually GO PLACES rather than select one target and writing off an entire spacecraft after this target is examined. Reusing Stardust and Deep Impact were good examples of this approach. However, I think this should be a default capability of every spacecraft rather than counting on pure luck and coincidence in selecting additional targets.
Imagine the Voyagers being able to come back to their previous targets or Galileo setting itself free of Jupiter's gravity and going out to explore asteroids instead of plunging into its fiery demise.
4. no more single-spacecraft "hope it works" approach
Instead of sending just one orbiter or one lander, we should send a lander and an orbiter simultanously so that we have the possibility of tracking spacecraft as it lands and inspecting it afterwards. No more "lost spacecraft stuck somewhere". We could aim at making spaceraft COOPERATE not by coincidence but from the start.
Let me give you a nice example: imagine we might send a new orbiter and a new lander to Titan. Obviously the orbiter will provide data link capability and some basic radio tracking. But would it not be wiser to actually fit it with a decent camera that allows it to actually SEE the spaceraft if something goes wrong?
I shall go into more detail on that in another thread:
Do not worry, I won't fill the forums with lots of my threads of this kind, just this one and another one for some of the things that had been on my mind for some time now.
5. no more reinventing the wheel each time we go somewhere
Of course each mission has its specific goals, but modifying an existing design might actually be cheaper in a lot of cases. And most of all: there is nothing wrong in sending identical spacecraft to two different asteroids