back to article New plan: Send humans into space, keep the robots on Earth

Barring certain exceptions, as everyone knows, the usual way for humanity to explore other planets or astronomical bodies is that we send out sophisticated robots to have a look round, controlled by teams of humans here on Earth. The mobile robotic system Justin, developed at the German Aerospace Center. Credit: DLR …


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  1. hplasm

    The ESA guy behind this idea-

    he wasn't called Waldo, by any chance?

  2. The Alpha Klutz
    Thumb Up

    so if you get to the ISS and realise you left the iron on

    you can send a robot to turn it off.

    There's also huge potential for astronaughts changing terrestrial lightbulbs. It could be a 24 hour on-demand service, call the number and a big angry robot will come and change your lightbulbs. Whether you want it to or not, which obviously you do since you called the number.

    And the robot will wear a large pink cowboy hat and it will play the trombone really fast. Space exploration is so cool.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Didn't you get the memo?

      Lightbulbs are verboten.

  3. Spanners Silver badge

    Investigation not exploration

    Let's make one thing clear. Sending robots and unmanned probes is not exploration. It is investigation. Exploration is done by people. Machinery does research and investigation.

    If someone managed to deal with the speed of light and the time lag, I suppose you could then get "Virtual Explorers" but when the machine hast to make decisions based on its preprogramming, it is in charge. The only other Science Fiction scenario would be sentient robots.

    Until then, the moon has been explored on 6 occasions and Mars has been investigated but never explored and so on.

  4. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Rapidly running out of ideas

    Don't get me wrong - I'm a big fan of space. After all, it's plentiful, non-toxic (unless you try top breathe it), low-fat and provides seconds of fun for all the family once the clouds clear.


    Really, what the hell is the point of this? If you're going to control robots, or conduct research into controlling robots there's little to distinguish controlling them from a portakabin in a low-rent area of some deserted state than there is from a (largely) airtight portakabin wizzing round the planet that costs a fortune to run and is right on the limits of human possibilty to get anything to or from.

    Now I appreciate that there's very little for people on the ISS to do - apart from trying to keep it (largely) airtight and not too hot and not too broken. But this does sound like make-work of a "we've got it, we better find something to use it for, now that the scuttle is virtually a historical footnote" nature.

    I'd like to see lots of research into robots, but it seems to me that the benefits of sending them to the ISS are miniscule and the costs are huge. Far better to do the work on-planet and spend the dosh that's saved on doing more work. But then what else is there for the ISS caretakers to do all day?

    1. Peter Mc Aulay

      Re: Rapidly running out of ideas

      No doubt because there are in fact significant differences between a stationary portakabin and one that's in orbit, and therefore suffering from things like variable latency, line-of-sight problems, etc., not to mention a free-fall human trying to operate a robot under acceleration (gravity).

      Imagine discovering you can't actually operate your remotes from space when your ship's already arrived in orbit. Best to clock up some experience beforehand.

  5. AndrewG

    Humanoid robots confirming to the astronauts movements?

    Considering the astronaut is in zero g and the robot isn't....I'd pay to see that on u-tube for about the 5 seconds it lasts.

    Investigation of wearbale drone control systems and LEO->Surface comms maybe, Examination of semi-autonomous drones conducting external repairs and operations to save an astronaut suiting up most deinfately.

    But managing a humanoid robot from orbit by conformal motion has got to be the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

  6. Beachrider

    Investigation vs Exploration?

    I suppose that your opinion is made clear by your post. I don't see anything in OED or other dictionary sites that backs it up, though.

    I don't see why the use of automation should diminish perceptions of the accomplishments. It only makes sense to use economical and risk-controlling measures to establish safe ways of eventually doing things.

    I DO agree that there has been too-little attention paid to developing technology that permits us to deploy people much closer to the front line, though.

  7. Rogerborg

    Sex bot, sex bot, you're my sex-bot

    No longer do astronauts' spouses have to DIY it while their other half is exploring outer space. Never mind Waldo, how about Dil... bot?

  8. Rocketman

    Can't see it any other way TBH

    Using robots to explore while the humans remain in orbit, this seems to me a necessary method of space exploration and I can't see it happening any other way. I do believe in robotic exploration while the human team remains on Earth but really, it's time to send astronauts up again.

  9. Bounty


    We can simulate variable latency.

    We should be using the ISS to study humans living in space, that's aobut the only thing it's good for. Which means we should be using it to study how to recycle food, water and energy in space. Process wastes. Artificial gravity (it should have {opposite} sections that spin.) It should be a test bed for other long term station keeping technologies like solar powered ion drives etc. Manufacturing and repair systems.

    It's currently used for many of these things, which is good, but I just don't get this implementation. We need the other mentioned technologies working before we get to operating humanoid cyborgs from orbit. [Which doesn't make sense, we should be operating rovers, which we already do!]

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good preparation

    If it turns out that you can control robots on Earth easily from the ISS, why not fill it with supplies and move it to Mars orbit? There astronauts can control robots on Mars without the crippling round trip message/response communications delay of up to 42 minutes, and the difficulty of achieving escape velocity to return home.

  11. Spanners Silver badge

    Investigation is necessary

    But it is not exploration.

    If your friend walks around the Antarctic with a video camera then emails the movie to you, did you explore the south pole? Of course not. He did - even if you had told him in advance exactly what to do.

    He explored and you used him to investigate for you.

    Investigation is certainly needed. It seems to be that nobody is willing to put explorers in harms way and the money is needed to look after bankers bonuses and the like. I doubt I would volunteer for a one way trip to Mars, but plenty have. In other words, Nowadays Drake, Cook and the like would be told today that we cannot allow them to go anywhere and some pictures taken by something with less processing power than my mobile phone will do.

  12. Mr Young

    This is all fine and well

    until the robot decides to not do as it is told - how would you send it to the naughty step for example?

    1. Pete 2 Silver badge

      how would you send it to the naughty step

      Reverse bias all the diodes down it's left side?

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