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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Are Robots, Instead of Humans, the Future for Space Exploration? And, I've Got Warts!

 Mars as seen on August 23
Curiosity Rover.  
The inset picture shows a boulder
roughly the same size as the rover itself for size comparisons.

Hello Troops,
It's a Wednesday, in case you didn't know.  I'm in the trailer reviewing my math lesson for tomorrow.  Poor kids, they get another hour of testing followed by 30 minutes of new assignments in Chapter 3.  They will leave the trailer dazed, confused and questioning their parent's decision to put them in the advanced math class.  
No news on the Space Center's renovation.  Hopefully there will be something to report next month.  
My funny moment of the day came in Shelley Elementary's lunchroom.  I was standing near the 3rd grade tables.
"Hey," a young 3rd grader was after my attention.
"What can I do for you young man?" I asked.
"I've got a virius!" he exclaimed proudly.  
I stepped back and cupped a hand over my mouth and nose.  "What kind of virus?" I'm surprised he understood me with my mouth and nose covered.
"I've got WARTS!" he said loud enough to draw everyone's attention at the table.  The girls scooted away while the boys leaned in closer.  He held his arm up high and pulled down his long sleeve.  Yes sir, he had warts.  He counted them for me.  One had been cut out by his doctor but was in the process of reforming.  He made sure to describe the surgical procedure in detail.  
There is never a dull moment - that's for sure.
The Future of Robotic Space Exploration
I sat in amazement watching the live landing of the new Mars Rover on TV a month ago.  I've checked on its progress almost daily.  I'm fascinated by the pictures, video and science.  It is truly the little engine that could.  
It's this fascination I have with the Rover that has me worried.  Will robots be the future of space exploration in the future?  Are humans destine to remain Earthbound; and if so, why? 
Matt Ricks sent me a link to a anonymous post written by someone who feels the same way I do.    
I have long expected that I would see people step foot on the red planet during my lifetime. As I am in my mid-thirties, I never considered that this was unlikely.  However, while following the exploits Spirit and Opportunity, this question came to me:  Have robots permanently become the most attractive option for space exploration? 
I think the answer to this question comes down to this:
Humans are more mentally and physical flexible than robots. This is their advantage in space exploration. However, human space-exploration has a high cost and is very dangerous. Robots are currently less mentally and physically flexible than humans, but the cost of robotic space exploration is much lower, and their is no associated risk to humans.
Due to the advances in robotics and artificial intelligence over recent years, and the certainty of advances to come, I think we may have reached a point where robotic space missions will forever remain to be more attractive compared to human missions.
I feel that the only exception to this situation might be due to a great need for humans to "experience it personally"; but unless the costs of space exploration can be surmounted by a small group of individuals that share this desire, I think this factor will not counter the obvious benefits of using robots.
I hope I am wrong, but my gut tells me that I am right. Of course, there may be a point in the future where human space-exploration becomes much less expensive and risky. However, I am currently reconsidering my own chances of witnessing it.

Imagine the computing power of future computers driving robotic space exploration.  Those robots will have the ability to reason and possibly imagine.

I believe the day will come when we bring Mars to Earth through elaborate simulations - like in a Star Trek like holodeck.  Our robots on Mars will send detailed information to powerful computers on Earth.  These supercomputers will take that information and create a Mars virtual world in a Star Trek like holodeck for Earthbound astronauts to explore.  The human's actions would be carefully recorded and transmitted to robots on Mars.  The Martian robots would mirror on Mars what their human counterparts did in their simulation. 

You, the younger readers of this blog, have a wonderful future ahead of you with advances in science and technology so wonderful, they can only be envisioned using your wildest imaginations.  Don't let the doomsayers and pessimists convince you that your future is lost.  I believe mankind will have the bright future championed by Star Trek and not the dark destruction offered in Battlestar Galactica.  We can solve our planet's problems.  We can explore the universe.  And with enough imagination and fortitude, wrestle away the universe's secrets and learn who and what we truly are.

Mr. W.       
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