Exobots for Space ExplorationCategory: Science & Technology
Posted: April 25, 2012 10:09AM
Researchers at Penn State are considering what it will take to explore the Universe and discover extraterrestrial life. Instead of sending manned vehicles to cross the cosmos or relying on massive receivers to catch a glimmer of a signal, they recommend using robots. Specifically exobots, which are self-replicating and autonomous robots with the ability to learn.
The researchers are thinking with the assumption that if there is intelligent life out there, it is likely similar to us, in the ways that matter for space exploration. They have limited resources and a dysfunctional government, so they will not be sending out broadcasts for the entire galaxy to listen to. The researchers believe they too would come to the conclusion that a fleet of exobots would be the best way to explore the vastness of space, amongst other things. While ultimately the robots would be used to hunt for life beyond the Solar System, they could start with some important chores around the Earth. Finding and tracking asteroids and other debris around the planet would be a good place to start. There are over 1,200 near Earth asteroids that could be a hazard to us, so monitoring their orbits could alert us to an impending threat, hopefully soon enough to do something.
Before averting a Hollywood-style apocalypse though, the exbots will have to be built and the researchers suggest a good place to do that would be on the Moon. The hardest part to any space mission is getting it off of the ground. Earth has a reasonably strong gravitational field and it has to be overcome for every launch. By building the exobots on the Moon though, where there is 1/6 the gravity and plenty of untapped resources, the gravity issue is mostly overcome. In fact, the exobots could harvest material from dead satellites or debris from old satellites still orbiting the planet, where the gravity will be even less, and possibly the materials will be better.
Of course, this research is somewhat speculative, as we do not have the exobots now, or a blueprint for them. This research is something worth remembering though, as one day we will have the ability to make these exobots and push far past our planet.