U-2 pilot Cholene Espinoza remembers her trips almost to space, on the fiftieth anniversary of the shoot-down of Francis Gary Powers:
Were the risks worth it? Absolutely. The advantage of having a human being in the pilot’s seat of a reconnaissance plane is overwhelming. A person can troubleshoot problems in mid-flight, with creativity that a computer lacks and a proximity to the problem that a remote-control pilot can never achieve. A pilot also has unique situational awareness: I’ve been on more than one mission in which I was able to distinguish promising details that a drone would have missed.
It was worth it personally, too. I’ll never forget the adrenaline surge of landing what was basically a multimillion-dollar jet-powered glider on its 12-inch tail wheel from a full stall while wearing a space suit. And I’ll always remember the peace of sitting alone on the quiet edge of space, out of radio contact for hours.
People would pay for that. Sounds like they would need better suits, though.