05 October 2012

Most Humans Would Be Happy to Leave Mars to the Robots

The Mars Curiosity Rover robot is preparing to sample and analyse Martian soil. The nuclear powered robot is far more capable of a sophisticated analysis of Mars, than were previous solar powered robots.

As space robots become more sophisticated, more and more humans will begin to question the need to send human explorers into space. And yet it is difficult to deny the attraction of space to humans, and the instinctive desire to expand the horizons of human existence and productive activity. Humans need a challenge, and it is difficult to find many challenges more daunting than the exploration and colonisation of space.

Humans are slowly developing the skills they will need to conduct extended missions in space and on extraterrestrial bodies. Not only national space agencies, but international and private space enterprises are working to extend the reach of humans into space.

The US is the only nation to successfully operate missions on the surface of Mars. But China and Russia have launched a joint mission to explore the moons of Mars, and India is now looking at a mission to Mars itself. In addition, the EU and Japan have each conducted missions to extra-terrestrial space bodies, which demonstrates many of the same skills needed for a Mars mission, and China is intent on operating on the surface of Luna within this decade.

Most of these extraterrestrial missions have been -- or will be -- unmanned robotic missions. But there are ways in which robots can be used to facilitate human space exploration:
Once we have determined the site of the first Martian base, robots will provide logistical support through the transportation of supplies (fuel, oxygen, water, food, etc) and equipment from one place to another within this general area of operations. Robot size and strength will be dictated by the specifics of what it is to be transported, and general-purpose tractors may be used to tow specialized trailers for cargo, liquids, and so forth. Making repeated transits between specific points within the base area of operations will greatly ease the challenges of mobility and navigation, since we can create and follow improved "roads" and leverage navigation infrastructure such as beacons. Manipulation capabilities will be required only for loading and unloading cargo or transferring fuel. Eventually we will need "optionally manned" vehicles to transport humans as drivers or passengers. This suggests that we will need some unmanned ground vehicles with size at least comparable to an All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) or golf cart. The dune buggy sized Lunar Rover Vehicles (LRVs) successfully used on Apollo 15, 16, and 17 provide a good reference point.

Later, robots will be employed to perform physical work in support of the construction of the Mars base: site preparation, road clearing, drilling, excavation (NASA, 2009), manufacture of bricks and/or other materials, construction of structures, and assembly and installation of equipment. These robots will have to be strong, they will require much more power than basic exploration or transportation robots, and they will need the mobility to move about in the "construction zone." For excavation and similar heavy construction tasks a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that the obvious terrestrial models – a small Bobcat or forklift – might be overkill, since the excavation of 10x10x10 meters in 800 days (26 months) using 5 robots would require each unit to move only about 1/4 m3 of regolith per day. Well-defined heavy tasks that do not require precision (such as excavation) will be performed autonomously by teams of robotic vehicles working pretty much continuously, day and night. _Jnl Cosmology

Extending the concept of "robot" to include engineered biological organisms, it is likely that engineered microbes will be used to facilitate human habitation and colonisation of extraterrestrial bodies such as Mars.

While more adventurous and ambitious humans may chafe at the many delays hampering the move of humans off the surface of the cradle planet Earth, it is only realistic to accept the need for more advanced tools. We need better and more scalable robotics, we need better bio-engineering, we need better materials, better prototypers and replicators, better nanotechnological assemblers, better computation, and better power sources -- particularly of the nuclear variety.

Nuclear reactors can produce copious amounts of heat and electrical power -- both of which will be needed for ambitious off-Earth projects. Perhaps the first missions in preparation for a human habitat on an extraterrestrial body might be the landing of self-assembling robots which will first build a permanent nuclear reactor, and then other critical machinery for assembling modular habitats and underlying infrastructure.

Once we are assured of ample power and process heat, the way will be open for most of the other things robots and microbes will need to do to facilitate human habitation.

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Blogger kurt9 said...

Well, it does make sense to build the infrastructure before sending people there.

Friday, 05 October, 2012  
Blogger kurt9 said...

You know, the vast majority of people think space as a geeky nerdy thing. They have absolutely no personal interest in it. As such, one would think then that if a group of entrepreneurs privately finance space colonization ventures on their own and are successful at it, that all of the cool non-geeky people would feel "good riddance" and would be all for it.

However, this seems to not be the case. Whenever I bring up this possibility in a conversation, people seem to think its wrong that such a group of self-interested people should be able to go out on to their own and create their own future independent of the rest of the human race.

Why do you suppose that is?

Friday, 05 October, 2012  
Blogger al fin said...

For the same reason that politicians such as Obama have made war against the private sector as a whole. Fear that "the others" may grow so strong that they can no longer be controlled and kept in their place.

Saturday, 06 October, 2012  
Blogger Stephen said...

Robots could some day bring some humungous superconducting cables and wrap them around the Red Planet and set a current running sufficient to make a functioning magnetic shield. Then they could sprinkle genetically altered bacteria all over Mars that would produce copious amounts of greenhouse gases. Perhaps the robots could get into the act and use machines to spew greenhouse gases into the air to speed the process up. Perhaps someday this would lead to a habitable planet that people would travel to and bring planets and animals and settle.

Saturday, 06 October, 2012  
Blogger kurt9 said...

For the same reason that politicians such as Obama have made war against the private sector as a whole. Fear that "the others" may grow so strong that they can no longer be controlled and kept in their place.

Yes, it is clear that such politicians and so-called "elites" are nothing more than criminal parasites.

Saturday, 06 October, 2012  

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