When Apollo astronauts on the moon spoke with Mission Control on Earth, there was a noticeable time gap between a statement from Tranquility Base and its immediate acknowledgment from Houston. The gap lasted almost three seconds, or 10 times longer than human reaction times would account for.
What was happening? The answer is simple: space. The moon orbits far enough from Earth that light (and radio) take 1.3 seconds each way to travel the distance. At exploration targets farther away, the delay increases; for exploring Mars, signals take between 5 and 40 minutes, depending on the varying distance between the two planets.
“During the Apollo missions, the astronauts were making scientific observations and relaying what they saw back to scientists on Earth. Both were collaborating on decisions about observations and which samples to collect and bring back to Earth to yield the most scientific value,” said Kip Hodges, Foundation Professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.
“This worked reasonably well for lunar explorations, but the time delay is likely to dramatically reduce the quality and scientific value of such collaborations in exploring faraway places like Mars.”
So far, Hodges notes, fieldwork is being done remotely on Mars by scientists on Earth using robotic tools such as the Curiosity rover. But it’s slow.
“Even though signals commanding observations and measurements take only minutes or tens of minutes to reach Mars, a single research activity on Mars, from command to data return, can take a day or more,” he said.
In the June 21 issue of the journal Science Robotics, Hodges and collaborators Dan Lester at Exinetics and Robert Anderson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory suggest a new approach to scientific exploration that they call exploration telepresence.
“To the extent that much scientific research is a process where awareness drives action,” the authors say, “the communications delay between humans on Earth and planetary exploration sites is limiting.”
The ideal is to keep these delays, or “latencies,” within the length of human reaction times. One approach is to have the astronaut scientists working directly on the surface of a planet. But landing humans and keeping them safe is an expensive and dangerous strategy.
A safer and less expensive approach, according to the authors, may be exploration science using telepresence, a strategy widely used on Earth now for activities as delicate and demanding as surgery.
“Telepresence means humans operating robotic systems from a distance close enough where the delay between human action and the robotic response is a fraction of a second,” Hodges explained.
For Mars research, astronauts might go to Mars orbit, but not to the surface. From orbit, the communications travel time would be such that an astronaut/scientist could work with a robotic surrogate, experiencing the surface environment virtually, and doing scientific investigations as if she or he were on the ground.
Moreover, humans in Mars orbit could control instruments in real time at many different sites across the planet. And by preventing contamination of Mars with terrestrial biology, exploration telepresence from orbit also offers advantages over in situ human explorers.
While the authors add that scientific research by humans working directly on the other planetary surfaces is the ultimate goal, exploration telepresence could be an important next step.
“Today we do good science on Mars using long time-delay telerobotics, but we could do much better science much more quickly with humans on the surface,” Hodges said. “Exploration telepresence would be a reasonable compromise until that day comes.”
Moreover, he said, “There are important targets for scientific exploration for which we currently don’t have the technology to land humans safely. Exploration telepresence could greatly expand the number of destinations where humans can do great science.”
Learn more: New virtual approach to science in space
The Latest on: Exploration telepresence
- William Gibson Is Still Ahead of the Curveon March 19, 2020 at 2:20 pm
When I reach William Gibson, he’s in the midst of parallel parking, the brain-busting futurity of his books giving way to the quotidian details of life in Vancouver. I typically try to avoid phone ...
- William Gibson Is Still Ahead of the Curveon March 19, 2020 at 2:18 pm
Characters in this timeline have developed a technique that allows them to communicate with characters in the past, and interact with them directly via trans-temporal telepresence—an extreme ...
- Defence agencies explore market for telexistenceon March 17, 2020 at 11:52 pm
DASA and Dstl said that the market exploration is aimed at understanding the maturity ... The agencies said they are interested in learning more about telepresence platforms, robotic systems and ...
- Global Space Robots Market 2020 Demand, Future Scope, Business Growth and Development Strategies 2025on March 13, 2020 at 1:01 am
The space robots market is projected to grow with a CAGR of more than 6% during the forecast period. - Space robots are used to perform activities like space manufacturing, maintenance, exploration, ...
- 2017 American Samoa Expedition: Suesuega o le Moana o Amerika Samoaon March 1, 2020 at 4:00 pm
From February to April 2017, NOAA and partners will conduct two telepresence-enabled ocean exploration cruises on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer to collect critical baseline information of unknown and ...
- Telepresence Robot 2000 Leagues Under The Seaon February 19, 2020 at 4:00 pm
But imagine if telepresence were applied to deep sea exploration. Today we can become oceanographers through the telepresence system created by Bob Ballard (known for locating the Titanic ...
- Explore Sanctuaries Liveon August 14, 2019 at 8:51 am
For an overall look at the telepresence research this summer, read the web story here. This summer, NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is teaming up with Global Foundation for Ocean ...
- Almost Like Being Thereon November 11, 2017 at 11:08 am
These roadblocks to human Mars exploration may be what motivate NASA to embrace telepresence in the near-term. But seeing it as a backup plan, or a poor substitute for real exploration, misses the ...
- Deep-Sea Symphony: Exploring the Musicians Seamountson August 31, 2017 at 5:43 pm
From September 6 to 30, 2017, NOAA and partners will conduct a telepresence-enabled ocean exploration expedition on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer to collect critical baseline information about unknown ...
- All Hands on Deckon August 28, 2017 at 11:27 am
It also goes to various other “command centers,” where groups of scientists gather to communicate directly with an archaeologist on watch duty and to help guide the exploration. The feed is ...
via Google News and Bing News