NASA to Replace Astronauts with Robots?

manned missions to the moon and the rest of the solar system
temporarily on hiatus, NASA needs a new endeavor to satisfy the
research and exploration demands of the public.  Their answer?  With
the increase in robotics technology, a new generation of cybernetic
astronauts is just what the doctor ordered.

new system calls for a new generation of cybernetic humanoid robots
(what would be called androids in some circles) to launch on a mission
to the moon and nearby asteroids and even the moon.  Such robotic
helpers would not only be able to survive conditions that would require
a considerable amount of life support for humans, but would be able to
“die” and be repaired should something go wrong.

budget cuts to the space program at their highest in several years,
many were becoming worried that NASA may be at its end, but if this
robotic exploration program is successful, we may be able to get robots
on the surface of the moon and even the red planet even if humans have
to wait for their surrogates to make the journey first.  President
Obama has slated two such missions to be funded before the end of
2011.  The first would be a remote exploration of the Lunar surface to
see if robots are a viable tool for exploring distant locations by
remote control.  Since the software onboard the robotic explorers is
limited, they would require remote articulate control by NASA personnel
to fill in the blanks in their programming.

NASA isn’t alone.  It has been actively seeking out all robotics
experts it can get its hands on in the international community to help
it build and test these robots to ensure success on future missions. 
Already it has selected an aerospace engineer who has been dubbed a
robotics powerhouse and robotics guru by the name of Robert Baun. 
Braun spent a considerable amount of time consulting with NASA on the
Mars Lander project as well as the rover and orbiter missions before
being promoted to chief technologist of the space agency.  Braun is
confident, according to meetings he has had with press that the field
of robotics is the future for NASA and that it will yield the kind of
results mankind has been waiting for for generations.  And in order to
ensure that future is a possibility, NASA is cooperating with private
corporations as well.  General Motors, the company who developed the
impressive “Big Dog” robot that wowed youtubers with its ability to
navigate harsh terrain and be kicked over only to recover within a
fraction of a second, is also on board with the project.  And it’s an
excellent opportunity for them as well.  Projections of future private
exploration of the moon places the budget for such projects at $50 or
even $60 million according to CEO and chairman of the X Prize
Foundation Peter Diamandis.

what does the future hold for remote exploration of off-world planets? 
Robots require little to survive aside from maintenance, a fuel source,
and instructions from Earth.  Several robots on a single mission could
not only repair one another but act in conjunction with one another,
using each as a remotely activated control tower to relay messages. 
After the loss of the Mars Rover finally after several years of
service, it seems NASA has a good track record with even outdated
technology exploring the surface of planets.  And with robots exploring
the surface, there’s no telling how much could be accomplished.