Robot Avatars Suggested for Exploring Celestial Bodies

NASA dreams of future when humans, robots are best of space friends

By Jackson West
|  Monday, Mar 1, 2010  |  Updated 2:00 PM PDT
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Robot Avatars Suggested for Exploring Celestial Bodies

NASA

To boldly go where no robot has gone before, Augustine Commission recommends 'bots on the ground and human's in orbit.

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President Barack Obama reversed a Bush administration effort to try another moon landing with the ultimate goal of putting a man on Mars, arguing amidst a budget crisis that NASA should scale back its lunar landing efforts.

However, that doesn't rule out sending robots on extraterrestrial vacations -- and bringing some meatbag human friends along for the ride.  The Obama administration based its decisions on NASA's 2009 report from its Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, better known as the Augustine Commission report.

The idea is to send humans and robots together to the moon or to Mars, with the humans staying in orbit and the robots touching down for a closer look.

It would solve one of the problems with the Mars Spirit Rover project -- namely, that the rover couldn't be controlled remotely in anything like real-time because of the vast distance and speed of light creating significant radio communications latency between the Earth and Mars.

So while the debate over Obama's space exploration plans continues in congress, Terry Fong of NASA Ames's Intelligent Robotics Group hasn't given up hope.

"People often ask me which are better. Humans? Or robotic exploration? And the answer is, actually both," Fong told KGO.

Jackson West admits this is probably his favorite installment of xkcd.

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