Humans and Robots — Again

I continue my musings on this perennial topic (and its relevance to the recent Presidential announcement) in a new post at Air & Space.  Comment here, if desired.

This entry was posted in Lunar development, Lunar exploration, Lunar Science, Philosophy of science, planetary exploration, space policy, space technology. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Humans and Robots — Again

  1. Bob Goddard says:

    Another eloquent assessment of the need for humans on the Moon, thank you, Paul. I was also struck by your statement – “Perhaps someday, humans will be killed off too, but our descendants living on the Moon and beyond will survive and prosper.” I believe this is a compelling reason to establish a permanent human settlement there, as described in ‘Mother Moon’

  2. Grand Lunar says:

    Good points brought up. I like the use of your experience, Dr Spudis, as well as the examples of how the process works on Earth with geological studies.

    My big worry with the announcement of once again returning to the Moon is that policy makers may make the same mistakes as they did with the Vision of Space Exploration.
    We must ensure this doesn’t turn into another “Apollo 2.0” mentality, nor a “Mars, via the Moon”.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      My big worry with the announcement of once again returning to the Moon is that policy makers may make the same mistakes as they did with the Vision of Space Exploration.

      Amen, brother.

  3. Gary Church says:

    “While the advent of lower expense through reusable rockets is touted as a major factor for lowered cost-”

    The NewSpace mob are fraudulent space advocates. It has become clear they could care less about Human Space Flight and consider it a P.R. device. They care about one thing and one thing only: promoting the flagship company.

    They have been posing as Human Space Flight supporters for close to a decade when in reality they are the worst thing that has ever happened to space exploration.

    By conflating satellite launch with Human Space Flight they have popularized this confidence scheme handing over a satellite launch company paid for with taxpayer dollars.
    It is a dead end road.

    “-we know giant impacts periodically destroy life forms on Earth. Perhaps someday, humans will be killed off too, but our descendants living on the Moon and beyond will survive and prosper.”

    A state sponsored Super Heavy Lift Vehicle program (the SLS) is the only hope of a permanent human presence Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO). The NewSpace fans have posted libraries of death-to-SLS propaganda over the years and forever inferred it best to “hand it all over to Musk” and dismantle the space agency. The astroturfing is incessant and…it never ends.

  4. Ron Menich says:

    Learning to live off the land is the right primary goal; exploration is not. You’ve noted this before (correctly, in my opinion).

    But tentatively assuming that exploration were the goal, then I see nothing wrong with purely robotic exploration. I’ll grant you that humans could return much, much more than current robots.

    But robots are continually increasing in capabilities, and exploration has no urgency to be done right now. So for exploration alone, it would be quite a fine and acceptable thing to send out new robots every year to the Moon or every other year to Mars. Each new generation would bring new insights. Each new generation rover would have new capabilities.

    Furthermore, robots on the Moon are quite a different animal than robots on Mars. With only a 3-second light delay, very fast-paced robotic operations could happen on the Moon.

    If exploration were the only goal, what’s the hurry? If there is no hurry, then just ride the curve of increasing robotic and teleoperation capabilities with the passage of time. Right now, we’re on the cusp of the age of self-driving cars.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      It is actually possible to pursue more than one goal at a time. Exploration has been part of our space program from the beginning, even during Apollo, which was essentially a national defense effort. Exploration is something the military traditionally does during peacetime (witness: the explorations and mapping of the American west by the U.S. Army in the early 1800s). From a societal perspective, we explore to broaden our collective imagination and strategic knowledge base. Such effort has always paid off in the past, sometimes in very unexpected ways.

      I am not saying that robots have no role; I am saying that no matter how much better they get, humans also have a critical role.

    • Joe says:

      “But robots are continually increasing in capabilities, …”

      True as of now,but someone (believe it may have been Robert Heinlein) coined the phrase – “If this goes on” to note the fallacy of assuming that past trends automatically continue into the future. For instance, after the first Apollo Landings an analysis was done of the speeds humans would be able to travel in the future – it showed us being able to exceed the Speed of Light by 1986.

  5. Gord Harmer says:

    Great article. But how much of a “national commitment to continue our grand human journey” do we really have? Until Congress passes funding, “…President Trump’s Directive calling for the return of humans to the lunar surface…” is only skin deep.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Some of us think that it’s not a matter solely of money, but commitment. For example, our published architecture requires no more than $7 billion per year. NASA currently gets $19 billion per year. I think lunar return is achievable under the existing budget.

      • Gary Church says:

        After Apollo we accomplished “LEO return” which was both a step backward and a wrong turn. LEO stopped being space exploration after Apollo 8 left it far behind. Abandoning LEO in favor of funding “LLO return” is the right path to correct that near half a century old mistake.

        The three problems with LLO are first the mascons that make low lunar orbits unstable. Stable “frozen” orbits are now understood and that problem is solved. The second problem is the radiation environment and the solution is ice-as-water-shielding dipped out of the Moons shallow gravity well. The third is of course getting hardware there and a wet workshop/robot lander combination for a Super Heavy Lift Vehicle can place large habitats in LLO and fill their radiation shields. The eventual 130 metric ton lift of the SLS makes this practical with few technical challenges.

        The first such water shielded workshops could also be utilized as lunar cyclers to provide commuter service to and from the Moon. This would make the Muskrats happy by possibly giving the hobby rocket a job as a taxi intercepting the cyclers as they swing around the Earth.

      • nova9 says:

        NASA’s annual human spaceflight related budget is only short by about $3 to $5 billion, IMO. Really, not a whole lot of money if we want NASA to finally start getting things done!

        If NASA’s human spaceflight related budget was prioritized at about $12 billion a year, I think NASA could easily have permanent outpost on the lunar surface well before the end of the 2020s, permanent outpost on the surface of Mars well before the end of the 2030s, and similar human outpost on the surfaces of Callisto and Mercury before the end of the 2040s.

        Also from the 2020s to the 2040s, simple rotating– artificial gravity– outpost could easily be placed within cis-lunar space, the orbits of Venus, Mercury, Jupiter (beyond the orbit of Callisto), Ceres, Vesta, etc.

        But, again, NASA’s human spaceflight related budget has to be sufficiently funded. With a current human spaceflight related budget at about $8 to $9 billion a year, its very difficult to fund a Big LEO program (ISS, Commercial Crew development) plus a big beyond LEO program (SLS, Orion, etc.). So NASA has to either prioritize more money for its human spaceflight related program within the current NASA budget or ask Congress for at least a $3 to $5 billion increase in its total annual budget.


        • Gary Church says:

          I would agree with some of that Marcel but I do not see any reason for a long term human presence anywhere but the vicinity of the Moon and places where there are oceans. Lunar resources are the only practical path to going anywhere Beyond Low Earth Orbit (BLEO), and where else to go must be carefully weighed.

          Fleets of true atomic spaceships patrolling the solar system and visiting various places with guest scientists on board as a secondary mission might be appropriate. But that would almost certainly depend on the nuclear arsenals of the superpowers being moved into deep space on such fleets.

          If we are looking for places to find life, that is one thing, and if we are looking for places to live, that is another. Living oceans with complex life forms similar to the creatures in our own deep ocean are at this point a possibility. Most people would agree that would be worth spending billions on missions sending human-crewed submarines to explore such living oceans. But not putting bootprints on barren rocks like Mars. The list of icy bodies with possible oceans is long, starting with Ceres.

          Lebensraum is best accomplished by building miles-in-diameter hollow spinning artificial moons with lunar material as envisioned by Gerard K. O’Neill. You are of course familiar with my view on this. Space Solar Power would be the economic engine to effect those mega-structures.

  6. Michael Wright says:

    NASAwatch has numerous discussions about this, one comment was “stop signing proclamations and start signing checks.” My input is avoid talking about Mars otherwise people will first talk about lunar exit strategy before landing on the Moon.

    Thanks for posting link to proposed lunar architecture at hope the “powers” will adopt some of this for future rovers. Would love to see results and photos of craters on the poles.

    • Gary Church says:

      In my view the NewSpace agenda is based on a confidence swindle that on one hand pretends to be all about Human Space Flight, making us a multi-planet species, colonizing Mars, etc. while on the other hand launching satellites for profit. They have not managed to provide that cheap ride to the soon-to-die-of-old-age space station to nowhere. They used that to suck up tax dollars to build the company. My guess is no such ride will happen because that is the scam. Mars will always be ten years away and there will be no successor to the ISS. The gateway being talked about does not have the massive shielding required so nobody is going to sign off on dosing crews. It ain’t LEO anymore.

      Since the first rule of NewSpace is to always scream cheap, they can simply say there is no commercial reason to do anything except launch satellites. They win any way you look at it and are actually quite shameless about their Ayn-Rand-in-space ideology if you examine the subtext of their comments. It is all a money game to them. Several sites are little more than SpaceX infomercials and I would not dignify what is posted there by calling it a “discussion”. Nothing to do with space exploration really and everything to do with the company. They want nothing to do with the Moon because it is not good for the company. The SLS is not good for the company, a Blue Moon Lander is not good for the company. Funding a lunar return instead of commercial cargo/crew is not good for the company.
      See how that works?

  7. Gary Church says:

    The pushback to lunar return is beginning. Expect to see a blitz of articles screaming how stupid it is to go back to the Moon. I am very unhappy about this and blame it on the usual suspects.

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