Yes, it’s true: Martin Rees is not a fan of manned space.
Why does he feel this way? Because unmanned space is what actually creates value for human beings and provides otherwise unavailable information to humanity.
His thoughts bring to mind a Milton Friedman story:
At one of our dinners, Milton recalled traveling to an Asian country in the 1960s and visiting a worksite where a new canal was being built. He was shocked to see that, instead of modern tractors and earth movers, the workers had shovels. He asked why there were so few machines. The government bureaucrat explained: “You don’t understand. This is a jobs program.” To which Milton replied: “Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If it’s jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels.”
I think there’s a manned spaceflight analogy that can be teased out of the Friedman story: is human spaceflight supposed to be a jobs program or is the intent to build some serious science and benefit to mankind?