The Incredible Explorabots: Space Pioneers


Artist concept of the Spirit/Opportunity type rovers.

The decision to begin our exploration of Mars by landing robotic rovers on that planet opened the door to an entirely new form of serious scientific exploration. If we include the many spacecraft such as Cassini, Chandra, Corot, Kepler, WISE, as well as the great Voyager pair, then programmed, automated, and intuitive investigations of our solar system and beyond announce that humankind has entered a new era.

Yes, human exploration is important and will expand and explain the results of our explorabot discoveries, but the expanded application of robotics allows us to be very selective and very safe in our decisions about human exploration beyond this planet. When we send in the astronauts they are responding to discoveries more than exploring.  As such they gather data that will help in the explanation of what has been found and how it relates to the formation of our solar system.

In response to an ever-increasing flow of discoveries human teams will arrive to actually construct operational bases from which to conduct their studies.  I suggest the first effort on this scale will be to our Moon.  Yes, we have been there, but we have not done all “that.” What we discover and explain on our Moon will be vital to our understanding of all aspects of our solar system’s evolution.  By looking close to home we will certainly find answers that apply throughout the system.  The experience we gain on the Moon and Mars helps us to improve our next set of explorabots and also to begin the planning for eventual human landings on Mars and other planetary bodies in our solar family.

It is so easy to presume that our explorabots are just a snap of engineering and scientific skill.  They are far more that just a snap.  They represent some of the most innovative, imaginative and functionally incredible designs ever produced. They are our powerful exploratory tools.  In our planning we must make certain that explorabots are the front-runners in all our exploration plans, including any return to the Moon.  When astronauts set foot, again, on our Moon it will be less in wonder and more a structured investigation of specific discoveries produced by both rovers and orbiting spacecraft.  This will be the beginning of the foundation of a Moon Base which will serve as an excellent training site for future human explorations, but also as the focal point for all our future exploration missions to our planetary neighbors.

The legacy of Spirit and Opportunity as well as their orbiting cohorts, Odyssey, Mars Express, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter set the pattern for our future robotic exploration of our solar system.  The gifted and dedicated members of the NASA/JPL team are looking way into the future in their plans for a variety of exploratory vehicles (rovers and spacecraft) that will begin those early exploratory efforts before we send in the astronauts.  To learn more about those plans and their associated explorabot designs please visit this site.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Humankind and Exploration, Moon Base Mission, Robotic Exploration

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