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Extraterrestrial Robotics (Robots in Space)

Spaceflight, still in its infancy, promises Mankind the ability to one day travel to the stars and colonize other planets. At the time President Kennedy issued his famous challenge to place a man on the Moon, the technology and expertise necessary to do so did not exist. The achievement of that goal is one of the greatest triumphs in exploration ever conceived — how it was accomplished is the story of Man’s struggle with and mastery of technology to expand his frontiers. From our initial push to the Moon, we have expanded our goal to exploration of the planets within our solar system as well as other celestial bodies.

NASA robots have proven their worth in unmanned planetary exploration. While current robotic probes, orbiters, landers and rovers are still primitive and semi-autonomous, NASA has aggressive plans for a new breed of sophisticated, autonomous space robots that will embark upon a far greater level of planetary discovery than has previously been possible.

Discussion abounds within space agencies, governments and scientific circles as to whether space exploration should be performed by men or machines. It is apparent given our current state of technology that, for the foreseeable future, we can learn far more about our solar system most cost effectively through use of space robots and robotic space vehicles than we can by waiting for manned spaceflight technology to bridge the gap.

Space robots will capture prominent and diverse roles in future planetary and space exploration and in space engineering applications, serving as independent explorers, as forerunners for manned expeditions, and as partners in human space exploits. It is conceivable that a fusion of robotics and nanotechnology will provide the necessary flexibility, robustness and economy necessary to drive future space exploration, industrialization and colonization.

Authored by Kenneth L. Anderson.  Original article published 1 September 2005.

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