Manned (or Staffed) space exploration

In summary, most people on this forum support manned space exploration, with some reservations about the need for humans on space missions.
  • #1
benswitala
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Do the people on this forum support manned (staffed) space exploration? I would like to know? Or would we be better off with simply robots exploring space for us. What is your opinion?
 
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  • #2
I see exploration conducted by autonomous and human controlled machines. Humans then investigate or 'colonize' the most likely sites. I figure most data collection and analysis conducted by machines, then viewed by humans.

Humans off Earth require bulky expensive life support in crewed ships and in space habitats protected from radiation. Machines are designed for space conditions and continuous operation. Even with human inhabitants, I expect most work to be performed by robots and similar automated machinery.
 
  • #3
Great. So, what constitutes a 'likely' site? Does that mean a site inhabitable by humans?
 
  • #4
The usual explanation from sources I have found useful in the past (Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, some other SF authors) goes a bit like this.

For some tasks, a robot probe is dandy. The first exploration of a completely unknown environment, for example. Or exploration of situations that are entirely likely to be lethal, especially with any small failure of equipment. Like the surface of Venus. Much rather have a few dozen robots go look around before trusting tender human skin to the protection of "the lowest bidder."

For more complicated tasks, there will be a lot of call for robot assistance, especially now that we are seeing a variety of quite sophisticated mechanical constructs. Things like the products of Boston Dynamics are very likely to be along in numbers for any installation off-Earth.

So setting up something like mining on the moon, you will have large numbers of bots doing large numbers of tasks. They don't require air or water are food etc. etc. Just electricity and maintenance. They can do very nearly all the work.

There are even interesting dodges you can do to get over the hill of current tech not being quite clever enough to do some tasks. You use remotes and have a human operator giving some guidance. This process works best for things no more than a few light seconds away from Earth. The bot has a model of what is going on and predicts the progress. The model is repeated on the Earth-side station for the operator. He gives commands based on the projected progress. So he is in effect giving real-time commands. Say he's digging a trench. The bot models what the trench will look like after the next scoop of dirt. The bot compares the model to what is really happening. If it gets in trouble then it stops and asks for help.

The thing is, there are always those situations nobody programmed in. The robot gets into a situation it can't get out of. Wedged under a rock, solar powered gizmo stuck in a shadow, something. Making the bots sophisticated enough to get themselves out of such spots is really tough. Even to have them get each other out of such bothers is tough.

There's a science fiction trope about a spaceship crewed entirely by robots. And it gets hit by a meteor or something, and the damage reporting machine gets damaged.
"What's happening? How badly have we been damaged?"
"I don't know. The damage report machine has been damaged."
And they send the backup damage report machine to the damaged area and it falls out the hole created by the impact.

So the usual dodge is, you want a few humans. They can understand the problem and improvise something to get past the hurdle that otherwise would stall the project. Or at least slow it down a lot. You keep a few humans around to go out there and look at the hole. And maybe patch up just enough of the damage so that the damage repair robots can actually see and analyze the damage.

But the number of humans required is quite small. For a moon base you probably only need one. But he needs some pals to stay sane, so you probably send more than one. Exactly how many depends on the length of the mission.
 
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  • #5
benswitala said:
Do the people on this forum support manned (staffed) space exploration? I would like to know? Or would we be better off with simply robots exploring space for us. What is your opinion?
How about you give us YOUR opinion first?
 
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  • #6
benswitala said:
Great. So, what constitutes a 'likely' site? Does that mean a site inhabitable by humans?
Generally, search and exploration missions are based on project requirements including search parameters and mission goals. 'Likely' refers to calculated probabilities of meeting these established requirements from acquired data.

To simplify, suppose you program semi-autonomous robot explorers to search for water on the Lunar surface. You include various search criteria in the program instructions such as selenologic formations protected from direct sunlight, perhaps a certain color different from typical lunar regolith, detecable water vapor molecules, known water ice deposits in the region, etc. Assign a likelihood of finding water deposits to data returned by these probes combined with data from other sources such as telescopes and satellite cameras. Use these probabilities to direct the next search to the most likely sites.

Finding water is just one example objective. The same probes using the same instruments or different instrument packages can search for many other items on the same mission such as signs of biologic activity, moonquake activity, solar and cosmic radiation levels, radioactive surface ores, etc. Reference the robotic explorer craft deployed on recent Mars missions. The deployment sites were chosen for likelihood of meeting established mission goals.
 

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