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Robotics Space

Robots Will Pave the Way To Mars 95

Posted by samzenpus
from the leading-the-way dept.
szotz (2505808) writes "There's a lot of skepticism swirling around NASA's plan to send humans to Mars in the 2030's, not to mention all those private missions. If we want to have sustainable (read: not bank-breaking) space exploration, the argument goes, there's no way we can do it the way we've been going to the moon and low-Earth orbit. We have to find a way to exploit space resources and cut down on the amount of stuff we need to launch from Earth. That's not a new idea. But this article in IEEE Spectrum suggests research on resource extraction and fabrication in low and zero gravity might actually be making progress...and that we could take these technologies quite far if we get our act together."
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Robots Will Pave the Way To Mars

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  • Now they want to send Wally to Mars?
  • by hax4bux (209237) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @09:28PM (#47116101)

    I don't think I would enjoy the drive.

    • No worries. It's likely only necessary to place sensors for your self-driving (auto-automobile) Tesla Elon SRS.
    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      You drive on the pavement?!

      • by quenda (644621)

        You drive on the pavement?!

        He must be American. Americans have no word for footpath because they drive everywhere.

  • No problem. We'll do the hard work and 'pave the way'. But if you meatbags expect us to hold the camera when you arrive like MacArthur at Leyte, you're out of your fscking minds.

  • by gmuslera (3436) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @09:39PM (#47116153) Homepage Journal

    To the stars through asteroids... we need to bring them close enough from here to move manufacturing to the space. It will take quite a bit of investment, but once we get there we can go to mars and the rest of the solar system way far cheaper, and probably will bring more than enough benefits down here, both for the developed technologies to make it viable, and the things and materials that could be manufactured/acquired that way. It is just an investment, just the kind of things that make the banks live.

    Of course, bringing asteroids large enough (i.e. of the size of the one that killed the dinosaurs) to be profitable close enough to earth could trouble a lot of people.

    • by rubycodez (864176)

      what would we get from an asteroid that would make space travel possible? anything found in them is common on earth too. earth is a bunch of asteroids and comets that coelesced together.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Materials that are already in space.

      • by Sarius64 (880298)
        Yes, but if we can mine osmium, iridium, and platinum by just melting an asteroid it would seem the better way to go.
        • by rubycodez (864176)

          asteroids are mostly made of much, much more boring things than that

          • by Sarius64 (880298)
            So is the Earth. Whoopie!
            • by rubycodez (864176)

              but there is HUGE difference in processes in tectonically active rocky planet like earth compared to garden variety sized asteroids, we have processes that make concentrated ore bodies (magmatic, hydrothermal, metamorphic shearing, and exogenous)

              that's why "mining asteroids" might not even be possible or economical without first entirely melting one down! not to say that in the FAR future that might be possible, but hardly a gateway to the planets or stars in the next century.

              • by Sarius64 (880298)

                We're not looking for crystals, we're looking for metals, IMO. Not a single process you mentioned makes metals; need stars for that. If an asteroid simply had concentrations of the most base metals it would be worth mining for nothing more than processed metals being already in space vice conventional rocket fuel lifting them up from Earth. Either way, mining asteroids is an easy way to get materials processed in space without a single environmental concern for our planet.

                As to your last comment, how wou

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      I think moving asteroids into earth orbit will be the next big space race. It will ostensibly be for scientific research and mining, but in reality will be a race to make sure that both China and the US can annihilate each other with kinetic bombardment.

      • And if we can muddle through the sequel Cold War long enough, we'll have raw materials and launching platforms out of earth's gravity well.

        Science is a risky undertaking in its advancement of military technology, but it has led to some decent advancements.

        • if we can muddle through the sequel Cold War long enough

          Tautology. If you arrive at the point where you can't muddle through, it'll turn hot very quickly.

      • It'll be a while before we start towing asteroids into Earth orbit. Earth-Moon Lagrange points will be the first destinations, then after we get good at that we'll gradually allow more and bigger rocks closer to Earth.

        As for kinetic bombardment from orbit, the energy budget is not promising for this scenario. The amount of reaction mass needed to de-orbit a large boulder is "non trivial" to say the least. I suppose you could build a rail-gun and shoot a small mass at high velocity in order nudge a bigger ro

    • NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission seems to be the only serious effort in this area. I applaud them for their ambition. While this mission is being marketed as a stepping stone for a manned Mars mission, it also happens to be a very good way to get started with in-situ space resource utilization. Anyone have any insight on how the plans for this mission are progressing?
  • by TechyImmigrant (175943) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @10:08PM (#47116303) Journal

    Personally I welcome all our robot overlords who buggered off to mars. Oh wait.

    • by Kjella (173770)

      Personally I welcome all our robot overlords who buggered off to mars. Oh wait.

      They'll be back as Cylons soon enough, you'll get your chance before they blast you to bits.

  • Research in robotics is especially useful because it has direct applications here on Earth, which makes it more likely to attract private investment and increases the likelihood of being able to spin off space tech for consumer purposes.

    Maybe in the future we'll be able to build robots using off-the-shelf parts to do boring, dangerous tasks here on Earth, and use slightly more robust versions (still made of mostly off-the-shelf parts) on Mars without spending billions on R&D.

    The easiest way to build bil

  • The appropriate way to get our act together is for the President to set a goal, give money and step the fuck away from NASA. We went to the moon with slide rules. In the era where a smartphone has more computing power than an entire Lunar Module, times 10, we are paying the Russians to send us to Low Earth Orbit. I'm not a proponent of human mission to Mars. The trip means little other than felling-good-about-my-country and flag planting. Send a robot there and we don't have to worry about a return trip,
    • Remember: "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills". That is why we'll send people to Mars: not despite the challenges that endeavour poses, but because of them, and because of what we'll learn from overcoming them.

      With that said, feasibility of the mission and the sense in spending large amounts of money on it are valid questions, and
  • We made it for months on submarines, underwater, day and night...months at a time. We made our own air and water from the ocean. So yes, find the resources along the way and Mars is not far at all. Robots? They will help, they are not the sole answer.
  • We've to build robots (space dock, new type of engine, new rad hardening, etc) first - these myths have long been debunked by Robert Zubrin. It's the never-ending process of getting ready that the space industry earns the Benjamins from, not the flight itself.
  • Heard this before (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Animats (122034) on Thursday May 29, 2014 @12:18AM (#47116869) Homepage

    From the article:

    Thatâ(TM)s the scenario laid out some 35 years ago by a team of academics and NASA engineers meeting at the University of Santa Clara, in California.

    There were still AI people talking this up when I was at Stanford CS in the 1980s. They wanted to have self-replicating robots on the Moon or Mars by 2000. I asked "how soon could you have it working in Arizona?" Some people didn't like that.

    It's embarrassing how bad robot manipulation is in unstructured situations. DARPA is trying to fix that by throwing money at the DARPA Humanoid Challenge. But so far, the machines in that are mostly teleoperated. (Ignore the edited videos for popular consumption; look at the split-screen videos that show three views of the machine and one of the operators, who often are using game controllers.)

    I'd like to see a robotic system able to do simple parts changes on a car - air filter, fuel filter, spark plugs, etc., removing and replacing any covers and cables needed to do the job.

  • Research on those things never has been the problem. The problem is that it's going to be extraordinarily expensive to get and maintain all that resource extraction and exploitation infrastructure on stream. The only way to "save" money is to a) treat the costs as sunk costs and thus not apply them to missions flown, or b)... there really isn't a "b". (Unless you fly a sufficiently large number of missions frequently enough that said costs become a minor component of the overhead - which really isn't "sustainable" because it doesn't create any savings because of the high total costs of all those missions.)

  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Thursday May 29, 2014 @04:42AM (#47117631)

    one of the more depressing things is that no one is building a von neumann machine.

    We have at least one of these already... the total human industrial complex on earth is of course capable of replicating itself.

    The problem is that its dispersed, poorly organized, designed more for production efficiency and capacity then for space/mass efficiency... etc.

    If you started out with one large warehouse and started putting at least one of every factory machine in existence... and then started combining them where they do similar things that can be tweaked so one machine does two roles... and then started miniaturizing them so you could squeeze the whole thing down. The point is that you should be able to fit a machine that can replicate itself and all human industry into a launchable package.

    Consider that everything we have was made with these soft clumsy hands. Everything we have comes from those hands making tools, which made tools, which made tools, which make everything.

    So we need to make something that can do that on mars or the moon or anywhere. Ideally not soft organic hands... those work on earth where our biosphere supports our life... but on other worlds you're going to need robots. And if you're building robots you might as well make the robots more specialized so you can skip a few steps.

    We should have already done this... launch a package at the moon and mars... and then just have the robots dig in and start building an industrial infrastructure.

    • by Livius (318358)

      What could go wrong?

      • You're of course referring to some sort of run away AI that becomes a threat to humanity or something.

        Easily avoided through compartmentalized specialized AIs that deal with specific tasks.

        For example... lets say you have a mining AI... this AI is in command of mining robots. Those robots under a worst case could be used to mine "people" or destroy things we care about or need to live. That's bad... but what if we only give that AI control over mining robots and do not give it command over the machines that

        • by Livius (318358)

          In other words, avoid the problems of a von Neumann machine by making something other than a von Neumann machine.

          • No... the von neumann machine isn't dangerous or problematic... the problem was with some sort of badly programmed AI that governs the machine.

            I showed how the system could be programmed such that the risks were manageable even under a worst case scenario.

            I therefore solved the cited problem.

            Give me a cookie right fucking now or I'll cut you.

    • one of the more depressing things is that no one is building a von neumann machine.

      Sure we are. They're called genetic engineers.

      • Only really useful in our biosphere... not really useful on the moon or mars.

        A practical machine should act as a seed we can fling into space, landing on a given world, building the industry we require for comfortable life possibly over decades, and then falling under our direct control when colonists/administrators take up residence.

        The genetics point is valid within our biosphere... though was we can make with such technology is still pretty limited when compared to what we can make with more traditional

  • What about using some brave, stupid, and disposable Kerbals?
  • And they want their newspaper headlines back.
  • Not going to happen.

    The distance between Earth and Mars varies widely and Pavement is rigid and non flexible.

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