Human vs. Robotic Space Exploration - Yesterday I spent all day in SpaceX’ Mission Control room participating in ground communication checkouts for the upcoming flight of Dragon to the International Space Station. While we were working, we had a live video feed from the ISS on the wall showing Robonaut floating around the station. This got me thinking - will the future of space exploration be dominated by tele-presence robotics rather than flesh and bone astronauts?
The long lag-time for radio communications across the solar system puts a limit on the ability to control robots from Earth in real time; however, parking those fragile humans in orbit and letting them control more expendable robots on the surface of a new planet is seen by many as the safer-better-way of space exploration. Wired magazine has a good article summarizing both sides of the debate:
Teleoperation has been considered in the past for space exploration. During the Apollo era, the technology was not well developed but in the last decade, it has taken off. On Earth, surgeons in Baltimore now perform operations in Indonesia while officers in Nevada covertly spy on nuclear sites in Iran.
Lester envisions a future where astronauts camp out on Mars’ moons Phobos and Deimos and order remote-controlled robots to drive long distances over the planet’s surface, set up geologic instruments, and collect samples for analysis.