HOME  |  NEWS  |  BLOGS  |  MESSAGES  |  FEATURES  |  VIDEOS  |  WEBINARS  |  INDUSTRIES  |  FOCUS ON FUNDAMENTALS
  |  REGISTER  |  LOGIN  |  HELP
Blogs
Mechatronics Zone

Send Machines, Not People, to Space

View Comments: Threaded|Newest First|Oldest First
Beth Stackpole
User Rank
Blogger
Space explorers want the real thing
Beth Stackpole   7/10/2012 7:50:17 AM
NO RATINGS
You raise some great points, Jon. The cost issue and possible expense of a human life is a compelling argument to keep the humans at home and send robots into orbit. But I think the very nature of human curiousity would dictate getting a human into space or to Mars or wherever the mission whenever technologically possible. The thrill of living and learning vicariously through metal, however intelligent, is not a fully satisfying substitute for the real thing for most scientists and explorers.

naperlou
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Space explorers want the real thing
naperlou   7/10/2012 8:56:14 AM
Beth, I agree with you. Just knowing about space and other planets is interesting, but ultimately the goal is get humans into space.  It all depends on what you want to do.  I disagre with Jon about the situation with the Mars mission.  If humans had been there with control of the craft, the unit issue might not have been fatal.  Remenber that with missions outside of Earth orbit, there is no direct control.  You upload a set of instructions, a program, and hope the spacecraft carries them out.  You also hope that you have thought of all the issues you might run into.  With a human in the loop, there is the chance to correct problems on the scene. 

We are all fond of the pilotless drones that are used in the wars we have had lately.  In these asymetric conflicts, where the enemy does not have an air force or air defenses, this works well.  Against a foe with such assets, the drones are all gone in the first few minutes of the conflict.  This is similar to what is happening in the Mars exploration.  We have sent many missions over decades to Mars.  These are very limited in scope and very expensive.  One manned mission would have done a lot more.

As for the cost, the whole space program is probably funded at between $12B - $15B, if I recall correctly.  Compare that with Medicare which is approaching $1T per year.  This is not a cost driver for the government.  In addition, many of the innovations in electronics, materials and other areas have been driven by trying to solve space travel problems.  In addition, the Medicare funding is often spent on end of life care that in the end does little or nothing to extend the individual's life and certianly does not help with quality of life.  There was an article on that in the Wall Street Journal recently.  A small percentage of savings in that area would double NASAs budget.

Well, I think you know where I stand on the issue. 

Jennifer Campbell
User Rank
Gold
Re: Space explorers want the real thing
Jennifer Campbell   7/10/2012 9:44:13 AM
NO RATINGS
I'm on the fence on this one. While Jon makes a good point, I think there is still a fascination with space exploration -- just look at Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo.

 

warren@fourward.com
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Space explorers want the real thing
warren@fourward.com   7/10/2012 7:44:31 PM
No, send people, not machines!  Where is the fun in saying, "Oh boy!  We just landed a radar platform on the moon!"  There isn't any.

Plus, no one is as creative as a human in figuring out problems, analyzing a situation to learn something not expected, and, for heaven's sake, we need more heroes!  We really do!  I remember the early astronauts.  They were exciting men who conquered great obstacles.  The current generation is too dependent upon rock stars, actors, politicians, and nobodies for their guides.  Give me a man on the moon any day!

Nancy Golden
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Space explorers want the real thing
Nancy Golden   7/10/2012 11:44:49 PM
I agree - part of the fascination we have with space would be diminished if we ruled out manned exploration. I am in favor of unmanned missions for exceptionally dangerous missions, but the inherent risk in space travel is understood by those who embrace it. The romance we had with the Apollo program ignited the scientific fervor of our nation and propelled us forward. "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" would just not have been the same coming from a pre-recorded audio clip activated by a robot...

Battar
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Space explorers want the real thing
Battar   7/11/2012 9:22:30 AM
"Exceptionally dangerous missions"? I'm trunig to think od a space mission which isn't exceptionally dangerous. Basically, every manned mission is a test flight.

Dave Palmer
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Space explorers want the real thing
Dave Palmer   7/10/2012 11:55:09 PM
NO RATINGS
I think both manned and unmanned space exploration are important.  In practical terms, I think it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for a manned mission to accomplish what Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have accomplished in terms of adding to our knowledge of the solar system -- at least, not within the limitations of current technology and economics.  On the other hand, manned space travel was what excited me as a kid.  I'm excited about the Mars Science Laboratory (landing in just 26 days, 1 hour, and 36 minutes!), but as others have already pointed out, it doesn't seem to have captured the public imagination the way that the Space Shuttle, or especially the Apollo program, did.  And I would argue that inspiring our imagination (especially the imagination of youth) is at least as important as adding to our scientific knowledge.

roddalitz
User Rank
Gold
Re: Space explorers want the real thing
roddalitz   7/11/2012 11:22:47 AM
NO RATINGS
Humans might enjoy the experience of being on Mars, for example, but they will not enjoy the process of getting there (and far worse for further places like Ganymede). If they do get there sane and healthy, they will not be able to perform a fraction of the practical work a robot explorer can do for a fraction of the cost.

Humans are designed for use on Earth, and can manage in near-Earth situations with special equipment. We are not suited to go beyond the Moon.

Already we have carried out hugely productive exploration on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, long before we can even set foot on our ow Moon again.

Battar
User Rank
Platinum
Step backwards
Battar   7/11/2012 9:28:05 AM
Putting humans in space will only set the space program backwards by decades. Development schedules for manned craft are much longer than for unmanned craft, and what happens when something goes wrong and an astronaut doesn't make it home? Years of inquirys, redesign, congressional hearings, committees etc. When a robot goes pear shaped you just send up another one after tweaking the fuel valve or whatever it is that scrapped the mission.

atemp
User Rank
Silver
Re: Step backwards
atemp   7/11/2012 10:16:18 AM
What a bunch of strutless, gutless wimps! Just post a billboard "Astronauts Wanted (space suit provided)" down Sturgis way, and you'd have a line five miles long of those rough & ready types wanting to try their hand at space-jockeying. Obviously it's not about finding Real Men willing to personally undertake work in space. The problems are leaving the decision-making to nurturing, low-testosterone or Viagra types, and that after fifty years space exploration should be reduced to twiddling a mouse before a screen. You want risk-free, go home and leave the fun to us who want to actually do something real. Just privatize and incentivize the space program, shut down NASA, and pull the teeth of the lawyers who want to $ue everytime some space jockey buys the farm.

Battar
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Step backwards
Battar   7/11/2012 10:26:41 AM
Not so. No shortage of volunteers for semi-suicide missions. With the budget and schedule for one man mission NASA can field about 10 robotic missions, and theres little they can't do that a human can in the way of scientific exploration, so it's not difficult to calculate the best return on investment. NASA objectives are science based, not Hollywood style drama and excitement. That bit they do just to getthe budgets approved. Did the Apollo astronauts achive anything, other than showmanship, that couldn't be done with robots?

atemp
User Rank
Silver
Re: Step backwards
atemp   7/11/2012 4:50:09 PM
NO RATINGS
It is pathetic how NASA and scientific research are held up as the Gold Standard and raison d'Ítre for any off-earth mission. I call BS that! Let SpaceX and its like dictate the future, not the bloated inefficient NASA or underfunded boffins. Humans suffer solar-ion damage and their bones dissolve in low-gee? Give the free-market pharmaceutical multinationals beaucoup incentives to develop space-medicine drugs to prevent or repair such damage, instead of working on yet another antidepressant or impotence drug. This is not higher math-- appeal to the existing greed of the typical corporate sociopath CEOs and boards, and stop whining about "underpaid" scientists and school teachers.

GlennA
User Rank
Gold
Re: Step backwards
GlennA   8/1/2012 8:01:14 PM
NO RATINGS
Battar;  Yes, Neil Armstrong completed a successful landing, which a robot might not have been able to do.  The original target landing zone was found to be strewn with boulders.  By taking manual control, the human pilot saved the mission.  In later missions, astronauts were taught some geology to assist their efforts to select 'intersting' samples for return.

I do admit that we do not have the technology currently to send astronauts to explore Jupiter's moons, and return them safely.  And lacking the space-race competition and paranoia of Sputnik etc, I guess robotic exploration will have to suffice until human space exploration becomes a priority.

Battar
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Step backwards
Battar   8/2/2012 2:17:31 AM
NO RATINGS
GlennA,

            Your observation about Neil Armstrong saving the moon mission by taking over manual control is only half he truth. Before Neil got there, 6 "Surveyor" robotic spacecraft were sent to the moon (this is mid-'60s technology, remember - no "Intel Inside" stickers on the robots). 4 of the robot craft succesfully landed on the moon, with no human pilots at the controls. Two didn't make it, but hey, it's just metal and plastic that got busted, so no one remembers it now. 

ervin0072002
User Rank
Gold
Humans need to be in Space
ervin0072002   7/11/2012 10:29:32 AM
I have to disagree. Slowing down research in the namesake of saving money is not the way. Here is a disconnected list of reasons why reducing any research funding in sciences is bad. Humans in space are a must. There is an endless list of reasons of why we need humans in space. And humans correcting design errors or compensating for machine failure is one of the minor reasons of why we need humans in space.

 

Reason 1: Lack of gravity for prolonged periods of time has introduced an endless list of questions. Can it be used to our advantage? Can it harm us? If this harms us in what are the results? How to avoid its harm? let's face it earth has a limited Surface area and even if we burrow deep, build the highest sky rises, and continue in killing each other with wars, unfortunate diseases etc., eventually we most likely will populate earth to system collapse. Space might hold a key to our millennia problems.

 

Reason 2: We explore space today so that we can migrate outward from earth. Eventually you need to send a human there to get a detailed report from a humans perspective. Human perspective is an important aspect of exploration.

Some more facts about research in general.

Fact: We already do what you claim. There are countless missions of cheap 1lb robots being launched yearly that roam our solar system in hopes of bringing a small piece of knowledge back. It's cheaper, people have thought of this quite a while ago, and it has its limitations as a practice. It suffices for far reaching places. We can complete our research for zero gravity here on our own little world. However where do you go to experiment at say 1/3rd gravity? I have just the place for you "Mars". What if having ~3.7m/s/s is enough to remove all the risks of living in lower gravity? What if this gigantic planet can be used as a source of materials as well as habitat? Do we dismiss this for the sake of saving money and remaining ignorant?

 

Fact: A societies worth is measured by its knowledge and its advances. We invest so much in military, social, and securities, yet we see budget cut after budget cut in academia and research. What's the point? Has anyone ever wondered why America's high school teachers are the least qualified people to teach? (Just a guess maybe lack of funding and extremely low wages?) While NASA has been a money pit some aspects of NASA (actually needed research) are being held up or completely shut down in the name of saving the budget when our armed forces still purchase million dollar hammers.

 

 

So no I don't agree with this logic. Keep in mind that while this may make no sense to you now it will be valuable to the society we leave behind. The reason we have the tech we so much enjoy is mostly due to very persistent physicists that fought so hard for the pennies they needed to complete their research. Even to date if you walk into an engineering lab in any college you see tools aimlessly lying around. Walk into a physics lab and everything is treasured. I was a physics lab tech for a little over a year and you cannot comprehend the lack of money, and the amount of work accomplished with that lack of money. While their toys are far more expensive than most engineering lab o-scopes they still lack equipment. You have to understand that to advance science you have to force engineering to advance to or wait for engineering to advance. So far our research has been in a waiting stance due to lack of money. Place funds in this society and you will quickly find advances similar to those in ww1 and ww2. While the intentions were wrong during that era they had the right idea. Invest in science because let's face it while engineering pays now science makes up for it in sheer force of invention later. Also always the chicken came before the Egg. Knowledge (aka Science) came before engineering. As we progress attaining new insight in our complex universe requires more effort and more funding this is true however the implications of this new found knowledge and its returns have yet to diminish. So if the returns to science are still there why slow down the funding or completely cut it?

Jon Titus
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Humans need to be in Space
Jon Titus   7/11/2012 3:28:20 PM
NO RATINGS
You didn't present a good argument for sending people into space, Ervin.  None of the experiments or goals you list require humans in space.  Societies do not progress by accumulating knowledge but by applying it.   Certainly we can justify some "far out" research, but what value or applicability do we find in the recently uncovered Higgs boson?  Answer: None.  This project became welfare for physicists and equipment manufacturers.  Thankfully the US suspended the Super Collider years ago.  I'd rather see research into insect-resistant crops, ways to purify water, cures for diseases, and so on; things that have a good chance of yielding answers to existing Earth-bound problems.

oldguywithtoys
User Rank
Silver
Re: Humans need to be in Space
oldguywithtoys   7/11/2012 6:53:50 PM
NO RATINGS
Jon, I'm a bit disappointed.  What got me into technology in the first place was the science-fiction I read as a kid (starting well before Sputnik).  I dreamed of being the first man on the moon... not of being the first man to see the video the robot sent back.  I grew up with the "space race."  Astronauts were my heroes.  I turned 20 a short time before the first moon landing... and astronauts were still my heroes, though I'd given up the dream of joining them.

We are lagging in science and technology - not in our higher educational institutions: we turn out some of the best scientists and technologists in the world.  Then most of them go back to their native countries.  The lag is in getting American kids interested at an early age - and young kids need heroes and they need big dreams.  And that is probably the best reason to press forward with manned space flight.

ervin0072002
User Rank
Gold
Re: Humans need to be in Space
ervin0072002   7/12/2012 8:48:43 AM
NO RATINGS
 

Oldguywithtoys I have to agree with you 100% on most aspects. However as far as academia goes we still lack funding. Physics students have difficulty getting money for school. Grants are limited and money for the lab is short. Yes the lab I worked at (I'm a physics major and a math major FYI both lacking funds) had a 0.5M USD atomic force microscope and we put it to good use doing research in 1nm technology. However I could not afford to buy a multimeter because our finance contact was an engineer and his excuse was that we have an AFM in the lab??? Last I checked we can't use a 0.5M unit as a multimeter. Physics is a very expensive field part of the reason is custom equipment. If you are looking into the unknown then you have to engineer new devices to get there. And believe it or not there is a good number of engineering inventions that were initiated by these little science projects physicists' request. Test equipment giants like HP and others worked with us closely with equipment unknown to them simply to satisfy their appetite for test techniques. They produced equipment for us at cost in some cases just to get a hand on the most cutting edge. So while some people only see the man in the moon. I see the thousands of physicists/ material scientists/ electrical engineers/ mechanical engineers/ aero engineers etc. that were involved in taking that ship there. And while many might say there was nothing to gain from that I have to say "WRONG" (picture Kevin Spacey from the last superman screaming in your face)

ervin0072002
User Rank
Gold
Re: Humans need to be in Space
ervin0072002   7/12/2012 8:31:50 AM
NO RATINGS
 

Of course applying it is important. I'm sure Egyptians made the same argument you are making when someone stuck a copper electrode in a lemon (no applicable use for it at the time using copper for swords and armor much better). And they stopped doing research in electricity (just hypothetical play along for a second) however recent research into this magical force has led us to become a very productive species. Similar with the Higgs knowing how the forces of the universe what's the use (as if understanding electricity and magnetism ever did anything useful for us???) since we have no immediate use of it???

Battar
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Humans need to be in Space
Battar   7/12/2012 2:30:12 AM
NO RATINGS
Ervin, I didn't suggest cutting the budget to one tenth and sending a robot instead of a human. I'm advocating maintaning the budget, and sending 10 robots on 10 missions instead of one manned mission, and doing 10 times the research - but with less pizzaz and press interest. Bob, you claim that the ultimate goal is to colonize the planets. I don't know where you picked that one up - I'm prety sure it's not in NASA's roadmap, nor do I understand how such a goal can be justified.

ervin0072002
User Rank
Gold
Re: Humans need to be in Space
ervin0072002   7/12/2012 8:52:16 AM
NO RATINGS
I think I missed my point in that wall of text sorry. The point is that human perspective is needed. So you can send your 10 robots to gain the basics and then send one human to fill in the blanks and complete the research.

And no there is no possible way with our current technology to colonize mars. However people dream and I am sure we will achieve it one day. I don't think it will be within our lifetime however amazing that SCI FI dream would be.

 

Jon Titus
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Humans need to be in Space
Jon Titus   7/18/2012 2:56:42 PM
NO RATINGS
Battar, I agree with you.  Good point about spreading available funds over more missions.

bobeldo
User Rank
Iron
People into space
bobeldo   7/11/2012 10:30:58 AM
NO RATINGS
Your vision is short sighted. Granted we want to learn about the universe and in the near term unmanned expeditions suffice, but the ultimate goal is to colonize other planets.  It may not be for hundreds or thousands of years but it is the only solution to "lebensraum".

Jon Titus
User Rank
Blogger
Re: People into space
Jon Titus   7/11/2012 3:21:00 PM
NO RATINGS
If we want to colonize other planets and it takes us hundreds of thousands of yesrs, then there's no rush to "gear up" for human on-site exploration in the next thousand years or so. In the meantime (now) send robots.

3drob
User Rank
Platinum
Short sighted at best.
3drob   7/11/2012 4:41:04 PM
NO RATINGS
Sending people into space is an absolute must for any society that considers itself a spacefaring nation. Sending robots into space is also a must. There is a place for both.

The mission(s) to refurbish Hubble are prime examples of needing people in space. The state of robotics is just not there yet. Also, the ability to think and react in real time is also critical for certain missions (it takes a lot of time for the EM waves to go back and forth the distances for these missions). In that sense, the state of AI is also just not there, yet. Those are both technological reasons to keep people in space, but there are also the collateral benefits to a countries economy and technological health (as the US benefitted from after Apollo).

There is also the political and social element to consider. There is a hump a society goes over when it makes that investment (and commitment) into manned flight. Once a nation has made that commitment, funding for un-manned flight (unrelated to the manned missions) is a given. If a nation gives up on manned flight, those monies do NOT automatically go into un-manned flight. In fact, I'd argue that the funding for unmanned flight would dry up quickly (other than missions to put satellites into Earth orbit).

There is much more to this discussion than simple technical reasons. There are economic, political (both national and international), and psychological benefits to manned space flight. Giving manned space flight up and leaving it to the Russians and Chinese will be the first step on a quick slide into 2nd or 3rd world status for the US. What a depressing, short sighted mistake that would be.

bobjengr
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Short sighted at best.
bobjengr   7/13/2012 4:59:23 PM
NO RATINGS
 I have to agree completely with you on this one.   I have no issue with developing parallel paths; i.e. robotic systems and manned systems, etc. but we do need the decision-making capability only manned space flight can give us.   I'm a bit narrow-mined though because I worked in the aerospace industry for some years during   the Gemini flights. I worked on the Titan II missile.  There were several occasions where missions would have been aborted had it not been for quick thinking and coordination of the ground crew with the PIC.    Robots could not have assessed the situation correctly and in time to make necessary corrections and course alterations. 

Jon Titus
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Short sighted at best.
Jon Titus   7/18/2012 3:03:20 PM
NO RATINGS
As the space program has developed, astronauts actually have had less and less to do.  The Space Shuttles could land themselves and "pilots" had little to do.  Early in the US space program there were heated discussions about whether or not to include pilots on missions.  The pilot "wing" of the space program won the day.

Yes, astronauts "fixed" the Hubble telescope, but I bet for the costs of sending humans to do the job and for the repair components, we could have put a better telescope in orbit.

tekochip
User Rank
Platinum
Stepping Stones
tekochip   8/2/2012 8:05:30 AM
NO RATINGS
Just as we explored the Moon, we sent robots there first to learn how to send people there.  It's much easier to send probes to learn how to explore so we can learn what is possible and how to make it possible.

Partner Zone
More Blogs from Mechatronics Zone
Suppose you wanted to create a FIR filter with your own requirements. How would you find the necessary coefficients, and how many of them would you need?
Switched-capacitor filters have a few disadvantages. They exhibit greater sensitivity to noise than their op-amp-based filter siblings, and they have low-amplitude clock-signal artifacts -- clock feedthrough -- on their outputs.
This column wraps up our discussion of encoders with information about resolvers, which provide angular data over 360 degrees.
Engineers use rotary encoders to measure the angular position of an attached device or to measure distance indirectly.
The Machinist Calc Pro computes speeds and feed rates for milling, turning, and drilling: cutting speed, spindle speed, feed rate (inches/minute), cutting feed, etc.
Design News Webinar Series
7/23/2014 11:00 a.m. California / 2:00 p.m. New York
7/17/2014 11:00 a.m. California / 2:00 p.m. New York
6/25/2014 11:00 a.m. California / 2:00 p.m. New York
5/13/2014 10:00 a.m. California / 1:00 p.m. New York / 6:00 p.m. London
Quick Poll
The Continuing Education Center offers engineers an entirely new way to get the education they need to formulate next-generation solutions.
Aug 4 - 8, Introduction to Linux Device Drivers
SEMESTERS: 1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6


Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.
Next Class: August 12 - 14
Sponsored by igus
Learn More   |   Login   |   Archived Classes
Twitter Feed
Design News Twitter Feed
Like Us on Facebook

Sponsored Content

Technology Marketplace

Copyright © 2014 UBM Canon, A UBM company, All rights reserved. Privacy Policy | Terms of Service