Space roundup: NASA plan to approach girl by 2018, exploring the Solar System with intelligent robots, atmospheres of extrasolar planets

Friday, February 12, 2010

I have a few links piling up so it's time to share them all in one post. The first one is from the Onion about NASA's thorough plan to approach a girl by 2018:

NASA Scientists Plan To Approach Girl By 2018 

We wish them the best of luck with that.

The first serious link is this one, about how increased AI will result in more and more intelligent robots exploring the Solar System for us. Immediately upon reading the title I thought of the probes that Darth Vader sent to look for Luke in the Empire Strikes Back, and the article references that too. Right now we're still at the point where humans do a far better job at exploring other bodies than robots do, and the rovers on Mars provide the best example of this. In spite of their phenomenal performance over the years, the job the two rovers have carried out could be done by two humans over the space of a few days, and apparently the Viking landers also missed finding ice by just a few centimetres whereas a human on the surface would have simply dug a bit deeper and would have found it. As for whether robots will have developed sufficiently to carry out more complex tasks by 2020 remains to be seen, but many probes already use automatic star trackers to plot their location without needing any help from the ground. A more intelligent AI for probes would also be useful in exploring places like the surface of Venus, because any lander would have to be protected against the extreme temperature and pressure and it would be much easier to simply make a dummy lander equipped with the most basic (and therefore robust) wiring, while a probe or solar flyer overhead sends signals to the lander to tell it what to do. If this probe is able to send the signals with as little help as possible from Earth then the mission could proceed that much faster; without it we would have to wait minutes at a time for a signal to be sent, received, and carried out, when controllers from Earth would then have to decide the next move.

The New York Times has the opinions of a few experts on the White House's new plans for NASA on a page entitled Is Manned Spaceflight Obsolete?

The Guardian has an article on the Fermi Paradox here. Personally I've never thought it to be much of a paradox as life throughout Earth's history has been pretty basic, and it has only been very very recently that civilization has developed, and less than a century since we've been able to send out radio signals. A culture like the Na'vi from Avatar wouldn't even be noticeable to us from tracking radio signals alone. The paradox will only turn out to be a true paradox if we obtain the ability to observe even simple life on other planets but there isn't any.


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