04 August 2007

Exploration and Development in Space: Men vs. Robots

How will the actual movement of humans into space eventually play out? Will humans develop a rocket version of the Conestoga Wagon, or the Mayflower? Or will humans even play a part in the next century of space development, when robots may make far more sense for initial exploration?

Nanotechnology and autonomous robotics research should make it possible for robots to do preliminary exploration and data collection. Orbital probes and planetary explorers are only first steps. Next, microbots and robots using nanotech assembly need to be able to prepare planetary surfaces for human habitation and work.

In the long run, it will be humans working along with robots, that will allow the fastest movement of humans into space.

A previous Al Fin posting dealt with the choice between war and exploration, for societies with excess populations needing food and resources. Both war and exploration push the envelope of science and technology, and technology developed for one may often be used for the other. This current posting is inspired by a comment, by Will Brown, on the previous posting.

Here is a fascinating look at using self replicating technology dropped onto the lunar surface to create a lunar factory out of lunar materials.

Robert Zubrin--author of many books and articles on space exploration--presents his preferred direction of future projects here.

Future robot explorers will be diverse and often counter-intuitive to many. Some will flitter through atmospheres, like butterflies. Some will hop around like grasshoppers. Some will swim like fish. They will possess mass spectrometers on micro-chips, and micro-actuators for drilling and sampling. Some will be self-replicating for a pre-set time period, to cover more ground.

We cannot do it without robots. We cannot do it quickly without self-replicating nano-technology. We cannot do it easily without improved machine "cognition".

It is easy to fixate on the robotics, the nanotechnology, or the machine cognition, and forget about the important thing--the growth and expansion of human knowledge, wisdom, and potency. The long term advance of more wise, knowledgeable, and competent into the extra-terrestrial realm.

So let's send out the flocks of autonomous and self-replicating robots, then not waste any time following behind.


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Blogger Will Brown said...

Why thank you, Fin. Not to seem petty, but the correct link is:


It doesn't really work without the pun you see.

As to this post, human exploration of space requires a comprehensive array of technology to be accomplished at all. So much so that it becomes comfortable to replace human activity with machine, ultimately to the exclusion of humans entirely.

Fellow shooter Kevin Baker had recent occasion to note the human cost of our endeavors into space:


Added to the self-inflicted damage from our process that he notes is that resulting from our maneuvering against one another politically and otherwise for present advantage at the expense of future opportunity.

The temptation to avoid such contests by extrapolating technologic capability beyond our actual abilities has the effect of creating additional venues for contests of advantage instead. I think this accounts for the incremental advancements in technology for exploration occuring in a combat environment, for example.

It seems to me that most human exploration has arisen from an effort to escape from, if not indirectly attack, established societal norms and standards. I very much doubt this will change any time soon, so your earlier post isn't so far from the mark as all that. Muslim or Chinese exploration would, I think, result more from an effort to escape the control of the established masters of those social orders than an expansion of their control.

As to the technology, you're quite right that the near-future lunar and extra-planetary exploration robots are being field tested in places in Iraq and Afghanistan as we write. I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that their future operators are with them now too.

Saturday, 04 August, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

Interesting point about the refugee contribution to exploration. And the point about needing new technologies to safely enter space is important.

Humans are willing to risk their lives for what they believe is a higher cause. Defense of the homeland, or opening up new resources for their descendants by exploration. If the risk is deemed "reasonable" many will accept it.

Men are more likely to enlist in inherently dangerous causes, occupations, and activities than women. I blame the testosterone.

Apologies for the address error.

Sunday, 05 August, 2007  

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