Humans vs Robots Who should explore space? 2.05

Two satellites crash, Iran looking to launch humans to space in 12 years, China’s EVA could be fake and humans vs. robots in the seat of space exploration?  All that and a whole lot more on this aquatacular episode of Spacevidcast LIVE from the Minneapolis Twestival!

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Two satellites crash go boom, make bad!

Iran put a satellite into space, now a man?

China: Did they really? Hmmm….

More China

Robots vs. Humans 

The Space Review

Air and Space magazine

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  1. KaiYves on February 14, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    Is that the music from “The Right Stuff?”

  2. Gonz037 on February 14, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    My thoughts are the biggest thing keeping humans out of space would be the money. When something goes wrong in space, some satellites asplode, tool bags are … missplaced, everybody hears about it. Any company with the money that might be able to sponsor getting humans in space probably wouldn’t want to touch that with a 10 foot pole because what IF something went wrong. They wouldn’t want their name associated with that. That leaves it up so someone with the money and the cajones. What ya think? Am I completely wrong? ;-P

  3. Robert Horning on February 14, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    As for China and “faking” the EVA….. here is at least one theory:

    China actually did go up into space and do the EVA, but the cameras were pieces of garbage and a horrible transmission to the ground, which is when they “simultaneously” (more or less) showed the “simulated” version.

    I know that most of the folks who read this are too old for this, but there were simulated runs for the Apollo landings as well…. including a simulated moon surface and even some incredibly cheesy “models” that were put together by the various television networks in their coverage of the landings. It is these models and simulators that also provide fodder for the lunar landing hoax supporters as well.

    The ultimate proof about this is if the Chinese space program is actually able to get anywhere other than LEO projects. They have an ultimate goal of landing on the Moon (perhaps even at Tranquility Base to plant a Chinese flag next to Neil Armstrong’s). The Chinese space program simply can’t progress any further unless they not just conduct EVAs but also have absolute mastery of the process. This is something that took years of effort for NASA and the Russians/Soviets to achieve as well. The first Russian EVA nearly ended in disaster when the cosmonaut couldn’t get back inside…. and a similar worry about Ed White getting back into Gemini 4. They can study this all they want and try to review where both the Russians and Americans screwed up over the years (with some unfortunate deaths on the part of the cosmonauts too!) If they don’t actually do it, there really is no Chinese space program.

    • Bencredible on February 15, 2009 at 6:05 pm

      Interesting theory. I would think that if China faked it that NASA would have said something. I mean I have to believe we can measure the time it took for the transmissions to travel and determine their location? Or something similar. I mean there are tons of ways to verify this stuff.

  4. QuarkSpin on February 15, 2009 at 1:50 am

    Why send a bot to do a man’s job? Case in point:

  5. Ryan on February 15, 2009 at 7:37 am

    I’m pretty sure the sake kicked near the end of that video lol.

    • Bencredible on February 15, 2009 at 6:06 pm

      LOL, if only. Alas I didn’t have a drop of booze until well after the show. Which means that I’m that crazy *sober*!

  6. Rick Boozer on February 15, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    Before I get onto the primary topic, I may be of some help to Ben. I went vegetarian 10 years ago. Boca and Morningstar make some meat substitutes that actually taste good! Boca makes the best hamburger substitute and Morningstar make the best chicken substitute. You’ll actually get more than twice the protein from these products than you would from meat!

    I’ve seen the argument of manned versus robot exploration debated for decades among NASA employees. This issue is still a heated discussion within the space agency. Yes, manned missions such as ISS, the space shuttle, etc. cost much more than robotic missions and thus indeed limit the amount that can be spent on robotic exploration. But the ultimate cause of that high cost is that for the last 50 years we have not concentrated on cheaper access to space. Had we done that, manned space flight would cost much less and we would have much more money to use for robotic missions. A large part of the cost of any interplanetary mission is still getting the mass of the spacecraft to LEO. This is because once at LEO, it takes much less energy to go into an interplanetary Hohmann transfer orbit. In the words of Robert Heinlein, “Reach low Earth orbit and you are half way to anywhere in the solar system.”

    People in NASA who are still arguing the manned versus robotic argument do not realize that they are really two sides of the same coin. They both make the same fundamental mistake in assuming that because reaching space has been extremely expensive for the last 50 years that it will remain that way. They are alike in that their minds are stuck in the past under the old paradigm. My point is that once cheaper access becomes available we will no longer need to make the Hobson’s choice between manned and robotic exploration.

    Even without considering cheaper access, NASA is wasting billions. One NASA scientist told me about an astrophysicist at a NASA research center who has a job doing accounting because there is not enough money available to finance his research. I think NASA could afford this scientist’s research and that of many others if it was not spending billions of dollars on development of Ares I. If Ares I ever launches, it will have the capability of lofting 25000 kg to LEO. But an existing high-end Delta IV heavy-lift launcher has the capability of putting 25800 kg to LEO. Why are we spending many extra billions to develop another expendable launch vehicle when there is an existing expendable launcher that is more capable?

    • Bencredible on February 15, 2009 at 6:03 pm

      Thanks for the veggie tips! I do want to live on the moon for an extended time and I believe I’ll be able to do that in my life time, less meat. Idealistic? Sure. Fun though. Are you still vegetarian?

      If you go back in shows you’ll see I’m not a huge Constellation fan. I like the idea of going back to the moon and on to Mars I just think we’re executing it incorrectly. This is in part why we like to concentrate on private travel so much. While the private industry is pretty far behind NASA and the likes, I think it will be able to move much, much faster with far less money. In only a couple of years we’ll have sub-orbital flight. Someone will push to bring that up to LEO with a space hotel. Then once there, we’ll… Why not have a space hotel on the moon?

      Agreed on the Delta IV rocket to a point. Although my understanding is that Delta IV is not powerful enough to get us out of Earth’s gravity, which is where the Ares V comes in. I believe Ares I and Ares V share a lot of the same tech, so maybe in the long run it is cheaper/safer/somethinger to do it this way? Dunno.

      • Rick Boozer on February 16, 2009 at 12:35 am

        Hi Ben,

        Yes, I’m still a vegetarian and intend to stay that way. Glad to be of help.

        Indeed, the classical Delta IV is not powerful enough! I’m talking about the very high-end Delta IV heavy lift. How can this larger Delta IV not be powerful enough when the payload to LEO of Ares I is 25,000 kg and the high-end Delta IV heavy lift can get 25,800 kg to LEO? That’s 800kg more payload to LEO than Ares I! Look at the data box on the right of this Wikipedia article next to the heading payload to LEO.

      • Rick Boozer on February 16, 2009 at 1:50 am

        Oh Ben, my apologies! I did not read your entry as closely as I should have (I was distracted because I’m in the middle of doing my income taxes). You are saying that the Delta IV is not as powerful as the Ares V not the Ares I. That is true, but if you use a fuel depot and orbital rendezvous and docking, then the Ares V is not needed either.

        Again, my late middle-aged eyes saw Ares V as Ares I and I didn’t read the rest of your statement as carefully as I should have. Sorry.

        • Robert Horning on February 17, 2009 at 2:31 am

          The Constellation architecture is planning on an Earth-orbit/Lunar-orbit profile that will require two launches in order to get to the Moon, so if you are going to make comparisons, you need to keep this in mind. Rick, you got this one nailed down 100%. To use a Delta-IV you might need three launches instead.

          For myself, I’d prefer an architecture made up of a couple Falcon-9 Heavy launches with a Dragon Capsule for going up and back down, a couple BA-330s for both living space while in transit between the Earth and the Moon as well as a core module for living on the surface of the Moon, and then an Armadillo lander for going to the Moon and back to Lunar orbit. How much do you think that might cost? I would suspect it would be less than the $2 billion per flight projected for the Orion. Given the lead time before NASA is going to be ready, I would place even odds that these three companies (SpaceX, Bigelow, and Armadillo) will be ready with equipment already flight tested in space and capable of doing this trip at about the same time Constellation will be still going through flight trials of the hardware.

          • Rick Boozer on February 17, 2009 at 3:14 am

            Agree with everything you said, Robert! The only reason I mentioned Delta IV instead of Falcon was that the Delta IV is available right now. But I too prefer the Falcon heavy lift. What do you get when you cross a Falcon with an Armadillo? Something better than a wierd looking bird: a cheap way to the moon!

          • cariann on February 17, 2009 at 9:25 pm

            WAIT! Rick and Robert *agree* on something? Oh noes! We need more controversial topics if this keeps happening!

            Ok… you know I’m just yanking your chain. I love the conversation you two have on here. We both appreciate it… so Thank you!

  7. Brady on February 16, 2009 at 5:30 am

    do be do be do

    • Cariann on February 16, 2009 at 7:10 am

      You know that was just for you, right?

  8. time_miner on February 16, 2009 at 8:42 pm


    • Robert Horning on February 17, 2009 at 2:03 am

      There are several problems that come with miniaturization of electronics with space vehicles:

      #1) The lead time necessary between when a typical spacecraft is authorized to be built by a government body (the U.S. Congress, EU governments, etc.) and when it actually flies…. much less to when it actually gets to the destination…. is measured in years and even decades. The New Horizons spacecraft that is going to Pluto was originally authorized in 2001 (before the 9/11 incident, to give some time perspective here), launched on January 2006, and will finally arrive at Pluto in 2015. Planning and the design of this vehicle date to even before 2001 in terms of getting specs on the parts needed for the vehicle. In other words, this vehicle will have some parts that are nearly 20 years old when it actually gets to where it needs to be, and this is pretty typical for robotic probes.

      #2) The environment on electronic components is extraordinarily rough. There are several “grades” of electronics, usually referenced by the terms “commercial” (requires a climate-controlled room to operate), “consumer” (what you have at home), “military” (should be obvious, but the military is rough on their equipment and needs tough parts), and finally “space”-grade components. Perhaps military-grade (usually referred to as mil-spec) might work, but it needs to be hearty components that can withstand incredible extremes in temperatures and be able to operate in a vacuum. Even a simply Playstation has fins and vents that require the components to be air-cooled…. which is fine for your living room but not for something in space. You also have “ionizing radiation” that also has a nasty habit of flipping bits in memory cells and does all kinds of other damage and causing other parts to simply fail.

      The point I’m making here is that most children’s electronic toys that you can purchase for less than $100 have more powerful processors and more internal memory than most robotic probes in space. 16-bit microprocessors have been rather common. BTW, the New Horizons probe is using the same microprocessor that the Sony Playstation (one) uses (sort of…. it is a space-hardened variant) and that is considered “state of the art” for NASA right now.

      More to the point, if you look back in time about 25 years or so in terms of electronic devices, that is what you can expect to see in robotic probes that will be used by NASA. I know this shatters the myth that NASA engineers are on the bleeding edge of electronic component designs, but with the exception of the Apollo Guidance Computer (one of the first to use integrated circuits), that has hardly been the case and for good reasons.

      It makes the awesome pictures you get back from these probes all that more impressive when you really think about it, that these incredibly talented engineers can get so much performance out of what is positively ancient computer equipment.

  9. QuarkSpin on February 19, 2009 at 4:52 am

    I think that one of the complaints that Ben had was that there seemed to be no defined plan for getting humans to Mars. Well, I did some digging and actually found a NASA roadmap for exploring Mars using robots AND humans. The link is here:

    I realize that the Ranger and Surveyor spacecraft were not as sophisticated as MRO or the Mars Exploration Rovers, but they served an important purpose: to prepare the way for human exploration of the Moon by giving us detailed information of potential landing sites (and identifying potential hazards as well). Even with these probes, there were still things about the Moon that NASA wasn’t really sure about — the thickness and composition of regolith, for example. They prepared for human exploration the best they could given the information they had.

    The wonderful thing about Altair (the new lander being designed as part of the Constellation program) is that it is supposed to allow a crew to land ANYWHERE on the lunar surface. Look at where the Apollo landing sites are. See a pattern? In order to be able to land anywhere though, you’re going to need a much higher resolution mapping of the lunar surface than what we had for Apollo. Enter the bots (LRO, LCROSS, KAGUYA, Chandrayaan-1 and others) to prepare the way for a resumption of human exploration of the Moon.

    Do I want human exploration of space? You betcha. Do I want to expose astronauts to risk? I’d rather keep that at a minimum. Do robots serve a purpose? Yes, in that they can take risky assignments in scouting out uncharted areas for humans and perform repetitive, mind-numbing tasks like imaging an entire stellar body (sometimes multiple times) with great precision. There is a place in the exploration of space for both.

  10. QuarkSpin on February 19, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    From ACM TechNews:

    Robots May Lead in Japan’s Moon Trek
    Nikkei Weekly (02/02/09) P. 17; Kato, Koji

    Landing equipment on the surface of the Moon to begin extensive exploration is one of the goals of a plan developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Essential to site selection and eventual establishment of an inhabited lunar base are exploratory robots such as a rover being developed at Tohoku University. The device needs to adapt to the unevenness of the Moon’s terrain and contend with the presence of loose dust. Researchers led by Tohoku University professor Kazuya Yoshida are testing prototype lunar rovers in a sandbox. Yoshida’s team is running tests to find the best ways to control the unmanned vehicle to reach destinations by the shortest possible routes without sliding down the sides of craters. One of the challenges that the Shimizu Institute of Technology is trying to tackle through its Space and Robot System Project is the extraction of oxygen from lunar sand, which is critical to sustaining life on the Moon. A lunar base envisioned by NASA and JAXA would include exploration robots that would assist people after they step out of protective shelters.
    View Full Article – May Require Paid Subscription

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