First New Pictures From the Lunar Surface

December 14th, 2013
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Before today, there were two nations that had managed to land a craft on the surface of the moon and beam back data and pictures.  The United States and the Soviet Union.  Both landed a number of unmanned probes.   The US also sent twelve manned missions to the lunar surface.  The Soviet Union didn’t send any humans but did send some sophisticated unmanned missions including two remote controlled rovers.

The last transmission from the moons surface was made by a Soviet probe in 1976.  While there have been other craft to orbit the moon or crash into it, this was the last surface probe.

Now a third nation has landed a probe on the moon and for the first time in thirty years the surface of the moon is being beamed back.

Via MSNBC:

China’s first moon rover lands — and rolls onto lunar surface

BEIJING — China on Saturday successfully carried out the world’s first soft landing of a space probe on the moon in nearly four decades, state media said. Hours later, video footage showed the probe’s rover rolling onto the lunar surface.

The achievement marked the next stage in an ambitious space program that aims to eventually put a Chinese astronaut on the moon.

The unmanned Chang’e 3 lander, named after a mythical Chinese goddess of the moon, touched down on Earth’s nearest neighbor following a 12-minute landing process.

The probe carried a six-wheeled moon rover called Yutu, or “Jade Rabbit,” the goddess’ pet in the myth. Within hours of its landing on a fairly flat, Earth-facing part of the moon, the rover separated from the Chang’e lander to embark on a three-month scientific exploration.

As an American, I’m a bit saddened to see someone else sending payloads to the moon while our own once-great space program seems to be getting nowhere fast. Still, it’s good to see the the moon is once again being visited by humankind. Though it might not be the most difficult planetary body to get to nor the one with the greatest scientific discoveries waiting, there is something about the familiarity and closeness of the moon that seems to beacon.

I hope this will be the start of a new era of lunar exploration missions by numerous countries.

And here’s the first picture…

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This entry was posted on Saturday, December 14th, 2013 at 4:50 pm and is filed under Good Science, Space. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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23 Responses to “First New Pictures From the Lunar Surface”

  1. 1
    James Greenidge Says:

    Good report!

    I hope they send a steady stream of video and progress, like that Japanese lunar orbiter did.


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  2. 2
    DV82XL Says:

    Well I suppose it should be congratulations all around to the Chinese team, but like you I can’t help but see this as yet another indication that the West is in decline. The best we could hope for is another space race developing, but we don’t seem to have the heart for it anymore.


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  3. 3
    George Carty Says:

    Achievements like this shows what being able to undersell every other country in the world can do for your country…


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  4. 4
    Q Says:

            DV82XL said:

    Well I suppose it should be congratulations all around to the Chinese team, but like you I can’t help but see this as yet another indication that the West is in decline. The best we could hope for is another space race developing, but we don’t seem to have the heart for it anymore.

            George Carty said:

    Achievements like this shows what being able to undersell every other country in the world can do for your country…

    Really? The US has put a large nuclear powered rover on mars. Comparatively, this is much easier. Yeah, it’s great to see more space exploration, but IMHO, this hardly puts the US or Russia or ESA to shame. I think any of them could do the same if they had the motivations to do so.

    ALso, from the perspective of science, is this really likely to make any huge discoveries? The moon has been explored quite a bit. So now there is a new section that analysis will be done on and it will expand the catalog of data from the moons surface, but I don’t think it is likely to find anything to rewrite the textbooks.

    It seems more like a matter of achievement and national pride than hard science


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  5. 5
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Q said:

    It seems more like a matter of achievement and national pride than hard science

    I do not think it is just that. While I agree the chances of massive scientific discoveries is remote, there will be valid science conducted. But the real reason for this is because it’s a first step to gain experience. A new lunar program should not start with big payloads. It’s too complex and high risk with untested systems.

    Much like US exploration of mars. After many years without much exploration of mars, the US landed Pathfinded in 1996, which was comparatively small and low cost. This was followed by other probes, the mars exploration rovers and finally the nuclear-powered Curiosity rover. Each one being larger and more ambitious than the previous.

    This is also how lunar exploration was first started. First flybys then orbiters then impacts then soft landings etc.

    It’s just one step in an ambitious Chinese space program


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  6. 6
    DV82XL Says:

    In other news Iran says it has successfully sent a monkey into space for a second time, part of an ambitious program aimed at manned space flight. Iran’s state TV said that the launch of the rocket dubbed Pajohesh, or Research in Farsi, was Iran’s first use of liquid fuel and reached a height of 120 kilometers. It said the monkey, named Fargam or Auspicious, was returned to earth safely. they are claiming these are the first steps in developing manned spaceflight.

            Q said:

    Yeah, it’s great to see more space exploration, but IMHO, this hardly puts the US or Russia or ESA to shame.

    No it doesn’t put them to shame, but keep in mind I’m old enough to remember when we were promised that there would be a permanent base on the moon by now. It is hard for those that did not live the heady years of the space race to understand the excitement, especially if you were as kid, and how disappointing it was when it all evaporated.

    So it’s not so much that others are pulling ahead here that gives me pause as much as it is a reminder of what once was and is now lost.


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  7. 7
    Anon Says:

            Q said:

    ALso, from the perspective of science, is this really likely to make any huge discoveries? The moon has been explored quite a bit. So now there is a new section that analysis will be done on and it will expand the catalog of data from the moons surface, but I don’t think it is likely to find anything to rewrite the textbooks.

    No it hasn’t, nothing has landed at the poles (which seem to have water) or the far side and very little has landed in the highlands.


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  8. 8
    Wayne SW Says:

    Over 42 years ago this nation launched a manned spacecraft on a suborbital flight (MR-3 in May 1961). Today we have no capability for manned spaceflight, even something very simple like a suborbital hop. But we’re sure as hell great at “Muslim Outreach”. This country has thrown away its scientific and technological lifeblood, and now other countries are catching and surpassing us. That is one sure sign of a the decline of a society and nation.


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  9. 9
    James Greenidge Says:

            Q said:

    The moon has been explored quite a bit.

    We barely explored the area of Manhattan’s Central Park on the moon, and ask any New Yorker that’s a enough to lose things and get lost in! I think one of the things that has atrophied U.S. space interest is that “been there done that” mindset that Obama himself quoted. We haven’t even explored lunar lava caves for minerals or odd meteorites or for ice or helium 3 at the bottom of craters or erected radio telescopes on the far side or used the moon as a testing ground for future planet exploration and people are already writing off the moon as “ho-hum”! And trust me, that attitude will be repeated after the first person lands on Mars, watch. That’s why Von Braun was so fevered to get a moon base established; the US public is short-term fickle thinking long term. I don’t begrudge China or India for taking up the torch to not just explore but stay and _exploit_ space as like they’re pushing ahead in nuclear energy only because we have a insanely clueless and frightened and science-illiterate public that thinks you can juice the world with windmills and its space excitement can be fulfilled by SFX-fest sci-fi movies. It’s not China or India or Japan dictating whether we’re the tortoise or the hare. All the power to them because they USE it!

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY


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  10. 10
    George Carty Says:

            Wayne SW said:

    Over 42 years ago this nation launched a manned spacecraft on a suborbital flight (MR-3 in May 1961). Today we have no capability for manned spaceflight, even something very simple like a suborbital hop.

    I find it bizarre that many of the people who bemoan the decline in the West’s manned space flight capability claim to be libertarians, but fail to grasp that the big problem with manned spaceflight is simply that there’s no money to be made! Space colonization as a trope emanates not from libertarianism but from Technocracy — America’s home-grown modernist ideology (the third, after Communism and Fascism) which flopped as a mass movement but whose propaganda wing eventually mutated into the sci-fi industry.

    “Space colonization” was to Technocracy as “World Revolution” was to Communism or as “Lebensraum in Osten” was to Nazism. One may note that it wasn’t the United States that put the first man in space, but its distinctly non-capitalist arch-enemy the USSR, and that the main factor which motivated America to land men on the Moon was a desire to regain the prestige lost when it was beaten into space by said arch-enemy.

            Wayne SW said:

    But we’re sure as hell great at “Muslim Outreach”.

    ROFL! As if the West’s relative decline is the Muslims’ fault…

            Wayne SW said:

    This country has thrown away its scientific and technological lifeblood, and now other countries are catching and surpassing us. That is one sure sign of a the decline of a society and nation.

    America’s great achievements in space came during the golden age of Bretton-Woods, when the United States had a huge trade surplus because all of its industrial competitors (except Britain to some extent) had been utterly devastated by World War II. This huge trade surplus meant that America had plenty of money to squander on stuff like manned spaceflight. Now of course it’s China that has the mammoth trade surplus, which explains why it’s China that’s now so interested in manned spaceflight.

    When will the West learn that free trade with East Asians is a sucker’s game?

            James Greenidge said:

    That’s why Von Braun was so fevered to get a moon base established; the US public is short-term fickle thinking long term.

    As a Nazi, von Braun no doubt had an overly rosy view of colonization.

    One may note that Germany under the Kaiser had tried to Germanize Posen province (aka Wielkopolska) by using financial incentives to encourage Germans to settle there — the effort was a total fiasco as Germans simply couldn’t be persuaded to move there. It is also noticeable that most of the German colonists in Nazi-occupied Poland came not from pre-war Germany, but from Stalin’s share of the Molotov-Ribbentrop spoils (the Baltic States and eastern Poland).

    At least in the case of space colonization there’s be no natives to exterminate — the flipside is that pretty much any extraterrestrial land makes Antarctica look like Miami Beach as far as habitability is concerned.


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  11. 11
    Anon Says:

            George Carty said:

    I find it bizarre that many of the people who bemoan the decline in the West’s manned space flight capability claim to be libertarians, but fail to grasp that the big problem with manned spaceflight is simply that there’s no money to be made!

    Of course whether the right libertarians will accept that their ideology isn’t well suited to space is another matter (some variants of left libertarianism might be able to work).

            George Carty said:

    Space colonization as a trope emanates not from libertarianism but from Technocracy — America’s home-grown modernist ideology (the third, after Communism and Fascism) which flopped as a mass movement but whose propaganda wing eventually mutated into the sci-fi industry.

    Brings up the question of whether something like technocracy could come back into fashion? Maybe not in the anti-intellectual US though.

    Though there does seem to be a strong technocratic streak in the left but in the west it doesn’t appear to have much power (OTOH, what passes for the left in the west looks quite right wing with its emphasis on conservation).

            George Carty said:

    One may note that it wasn’t the United States that put the first man in space, but its distinctly non-capitalist arch-enemy the USSR,

    True, though it wasn’t a massive lead and the US could have launched a satellite before Sputnik if they’d wanted to.

            George Carty said:

    and that the main factor which motivated America to land men on the Moon was a desire to regain the prestige lost when it was beaten into space by said arch-enemy.

    Sadly this is true, which is why the moon base, big Saturn V launched multi-module space stations and mars missions never happened.

            George Carty said:

    As a Nazi, von Braun no doubt had an overly rosy view of colonization.

    Though von Braun didn’t actually adhere to Nazi ideology, he was just working for them because they were willing to pay him to develop the technology to send people into space.

            George Carty said:

    At least in the case of space colonization there’s be no natives to exterminate

    That helps, a lot.

            George Carty said:

    the flipside is that pretty much any extraterrestrial land makes Antarctica look like Miami Beach as far as habitability is concerned.

    OTOH there’s no zero g sex in Miami Beach (or Antarctica).

    :-)

    Whilst there would be people who’d go to space just to live in space there will need to be something for them to do there that can’t be done on Earth and that is a problem.


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  12. 12
    George Carty Says:

            Anon said:

    Brings up the question of whether something like technocracy could come back into fashion? Maybe not in the anti-intellectual US though.

    To me the nearest there is to technocracy in the United States would be the LaRouche movement (although this of course has its own foibles).

            Anon said:

    Though there does seem to be a strong technocratic streak in the left but in the west it doesn’t appear to have much power (OTOH, what passes for the left in the west looks quite right wing with its emphasis on conservation).

    Would it be instructive to view politics in terms of a three-cornered class conflict?

    * Feudalism: Rule by landowners only
    * Manchester liberalism: Rule by industrialists only
    * Marxist socialism: Rule by workers only

    * Bonapartism: Landowners and industrialists gang up on workers
    * Social Democracy: Workers and industrialists gang up on landowners
    * Eco-Socialism: Workers and landowners gang up on industrialists

    * Fascist Corporatism: All class conflict abolished by government decree


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  13. 13
    Anon Says:

            George Carty said:

    To me the nearest there is to technocracy in the United States would be the LaRouche movement (although this of course has its own foibles).

    They do have some tendencies in that direction.

            George Carty said:

    Would it be instructive to view politics in terms of a three-cornered class conflict?

    Not so sure, I suspect even adding a third class (to workers and bosses) is still a massive over-simplification.

    I’d probably go for something more like the Inglehart–Welzel Cultural Map and other similar scales developed using factor analysis (i.e. looking at what people actually believe and seeing where the correlations are, not coming from first principals (which are usually ideologically motivated based on what their creator considers important)).


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  14. 14
    DV82XL Says:

    It is best to keep in mind the major settlement colonies like North America, South Africa, and Australia were not started just because there was a clear financial gain for the European powers that started them. It was much later, several generations in fact, before there were real investment opportunities beyond those that could be realized by outfit-style trade. There will never be the sort of short returns that will make any colonization effort worth the investment if that is the only criterion for doing it.


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  15. 15
    James Greenidge Says:

    Seasons Greetings All;

            George Carty said:

    As a Nazi, von Braun no doubt had an overly rosy view of colonization.

    I fail to understand what homesteading the moon has to do with Kaisers and conquering Poland and exterminating natives. I’m not into any guilt-trip pseudo-intellectual prose I’m afraid. Exploitation and colonization of the moon is as natural for humanity as the lungfish’s first waddle on land, no big cerebral treatise needed. Von Braun was drafted as a Nazi member — he wasn’t a dyed in the wool one, especially when it’s injurious to your and relative’s health to say “I won’t do it” to a madman leader. No way I’m second-guessing him there, especially after seeing why Einstein hi-tailed it out of there. Von Braun’s first long love was sending rockets to the moon, not the heart of London, and those who have a beef with the man’s role under tyranny would be disappointed which he’d freely chose if given the choice. The man gets my vote, not my backhand. That Eisenhower reined back von Braun who was ready and waiting to orbit a Explorer satellite for International Geophysics Year to do more research than just go beep-beep like Sputnik did several months later assures me that the US was bested by the lack of political will and guts back then, not technical acumen. That same political poundfoolishness killed off DynaSoar in the bud which would’ve gifted us an advanced aerospaceplane two decades before the shuttle. As for Antarctica, it’s doable and livable – and better be if we’re ever to do Mars and Titan. No one owns the place, and that’s why it’s underdeveloped. So much for non-competition evolving things, especially when the green powers that be in the treaty world won’t even allow any nuclear reactors to do some serious work down there. Heck, Hilton wasn’t allowed to build a hotel down there by that same “virgin continent” nonsense. I see nothing wrong with pushing one’s technology with a near-bloodless and even mutually admirable “space race” and I hold no particular envy for Gargarin’s flight because had the US administration the will then we could’ve done it months before. That Russian asteroid last year jarred a lot of people to realize that the space programs of all countries is one of the best civilization life insurance investments we ever made.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY


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  16. 16
    Anon Says:

    There are people who advocate settling Antarctica and whilst I’d like to see them succeed I don’t expect it to happen, I just can’t see any compelling reason for the rest of the world to discard the Antarctic Treaty System, certainly not if they won’t gain from it (what would they gain from letting a new country start up anyway?) and have to fight the greens about it (there are far more pressing things they need to be fought over so we’re probably better off not bothering there).

    If someone wanted to colonise Antarctica I think the way to do it would be to be quite about it but that has some nasty problems of its own and I think they’d need to become self-sufficient very early on.

            James Greenidge said:

    No one owns the place, and that’s why it’s underdeveloped. So much for non-competition evolving things,

    That’s actually the intention, the people who created the Antarctic Treaty System don’t want it to be developed.

    There are space treaties like it, the moon treaty which almost no one was stupid enough to sign is the worst but the outer space treaty also isn’t the best idea (but probably still workable).


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  17. 17
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Anon said:

    No it hasn’t, nothing has landed at the poles (which seem to have water) or the far side and very little has landed in the highlands.

    I suppose it depends on what you would call a major breakthrough. My thought is that it probably won’t do anything like rewrite our understanding of the origin of the moon. In fact, I would think, at this point, the likelihood that any one mission will produce breakthroughs that stun the scientific world is not likely. That is more likely to come from having a large number of missions that profile a diverse sample of the moon.


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  18. 18
    Anon Says:

    I agree that it’s unlikely that we’ll make a major discovery but even so we may still find something surprising and we’ll only know if we do a full survey.


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  19. 19
    George Carty Says:

            DV82XL said:

    It is best to keep in mind the major settlement colonies like North America, South Africa, and Australia were not started just because there was a clear financial gain for the European powers that started them.

    Christopher Columbus’s voyages were of course aimed at finding a new route to the spices of the East Indies (which were very valuable in Europe as they couldn’t be produced in Europe) that was not under the control of the hostile Ottomans. The Spanish got sidetracked pillaging the Aztecs and Incas, but their establishment of the Manila-Acapulco galleon service shows that they never forgot their original objective.

    The Dutch settlement of South Africa was also motivated by a desire to reach the wealth of the East, in the sense that it was motivated by their desire to secure a vital strategic position on the sea route between the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia). And Australia was of course founded as a penal colony.

    What useful tasks could humans do in outer space that could not be done far more cost-effectively by robotic spacecraft? And even if a task is too complex for autonomous robots and too far from Earth for remote-controlled robots, would the human operators have to be permanent settlers, as opposed to people who spent a few months in space at time (like workers currently do on offshore oil platforms).

            James Greenidge said:

    I fail to understand what homesteading the moon has to do with Kaisers and conquering Poland and exterminating natives. I’m not into any guilt-trip pseudo-intellectual prose I’m afraid.

    I wasn’t trying to guilt-trip at all (although I can understand that misconception on your part). I was more looking to consider if colonization itself was overrated. Perhaps however the failure of German colonization to the East (not in the sense of Germany’s ultimate military defeats, but in the sense that few Germans were actually willing to do the colonizing) was a special case (maybe due to Polish soils being too poor)? After all, American colonization was a great success, as was Russian colonization of Siberia.


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  20. 20
    DV82XL Says:

            George Carty said:

    What useful tasks could humans do in outer space that could not be done far more cost-effectively by robotic spacecraft? And even if a task is too complex for autonomous robots and too far from Earth for remote-controlled robots, would the human operators have to be permanent settlers, as opposed to people who spent a few months in space at time (like workers currently do on offshore oil platforms).

    Ultimately we have to make a choice between sticking to this one ball of rock or spreading out and if we chose to do the latter, we are going to have to start somewhere. It may be that our fate is to stay and change into something all together different a la the singularity (whatever that turns out to be) but I personally think we should hedge our bets and that means reaching out. If we don’t we will be putting all of our eggs in one basket. Clearly this world will not and cannot support us in perpetuity – and that is the bottom line. While it is true we have not yet reached the level of technology that will make colonizing other planets in this system simple, we can’t stop reaching.


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  21. 21
    Anon Says:

            George Carty said:

    Christopher Columbus’s voyages were of course aimed at finding a new route to the spices of the East Indies (which were very valuable in Europe as they couldn’t be produced in Europe) that was not under the control of the hostile Ottomans.

    Don’t forget the measurement error, though it is somewhat appropriate for the US to have come about that way.

            George Carty said:

    The Dutch settlement of South Africa was also motivated by a desire to reach the wealth of the East, in the sense that it was motivated by their desire to secure a vital strategic position on the sea route between the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia).

    There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of strategic positions in space and it’s relatively easy to build a new way station should the need arise (transport from the belt and other planets could be based on cyclers).

            George Carty said:

    And Australia was of course founded as a penal colony.

    Sending prisoners into space seems rather expensive compared to prisons on earth and the work we’d need done would also seem not to be the kind that would require a lot of unskilled labour.

    Any problem with too many prisoners (which the US does suffer from) would be much better solved by ending the war on some drugs than by deporting prisoners to orbit.

            George Carty said:

    What useful tasks could humans do in outer space that could not be done far more cost-effectively by robotic spacecraft? And even if a task is too complex for autonomous robots and too far from Earth for remote-controlled robots, would the human operators have to be permanent settlers, as opposed to people who spent a few months in space at time (like workers currently do on offshore oil platforms).

    That’s the problem, tourism by definition can’t be done by robots but whether it’ll be enough…

    Of course it’s possible that the outposts will be made more comfortable and eventually end up nice places to raise a family.

            George Carty said:

    I wasn’t trying to guilt-trip at all (although I can understand that misconception on your part). I was more looking to consider if colonization itself was overrated. Perhaps however the failure of German colonization to the East (not in the sense of Germany’s ultimate military defeats, but in the sense that few Germans were actually willing to do the colonizing) was a special case (maybe due to Polish soils being too poor)? After all, American colonization was a great success, as was Russian colonization of Siberia.

    What seems to happening is that people move when they think there is a better opportunity, Germans didn’t see Poland as being an improvement while European immigrants did see the US as an improvement over what they had.

    There is a good argument that those who colonise space will come from the third world.


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  22. 22
    drbuzz0 Says:

            George Carty said:

    What useful tasks could humans do in outer space that could not be done far more cost-effectively by robotic spacecraft? And even if a task is too complex for autonomous robots and too far from Earth for remote-controlled robots, would the human operators have to be permanent settlers, as opposed to people who spent a few months in space at time (like workers currently do on offshore oil platforms).

    That is an interesting and relevant question, for sure.

    From a practical standpoint, I would say we are still not quite at the point of fully replicating the dexterity and adaptability of humans with machines. Yes, we are getting better and maybe we will get there. But it still is difficult to make a robot that can adapt and do things humans can. A robot might be able to fix things it is designed to fix, but it’s harder to make one that can do unplanned things.

    Astronauts have to do unplanned things sometimes, which are likely beyond the capabilities of robotics. For example, when the doors to the Hubble Space Telescope would not close, one astronaut had to lean against it while the other wedged it closed. On Apollo 13, it took human dexterity to tear apart books and bags to fabricate a CO2 scrubber adapter (which I guess you could argue was only needed for humans)

    I guess you could say that some of this could be done with manipulators. But manipulators break too. Humans break as well, but we’re still ahead of machinery in some ways. Our joints don’t wear the same way because they keep regenerating. Our arms and legs are less likely to break because they are full of sensors (nerve endings) which tell us when we are putting too much strain on them.

    We’re not quite there with machines.

    I guess we might get there.

    As far as software – it is not very good at adapting to situations far beyond what it was explicitly programed expecting. It is certainly not able to come up with creative solutions to abstract, unexpected problems. It also would have a hard time with some areas of judgement. For example, telling a probe to “Take photos of anything that appear anomalous or significant” This would be of issue in areas where direct remote control might not be workable, like deep space where light takes too long to reach.

    But I think, in the end, it’s not just the practical missions. It’s more about expanding human exploration and habitation.


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  23. 23
    DV82XL Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    From a practical standpoint, I would say we are still not quite at the point of fully replicating the dexterity and adaptability of humans with machines. Yes, we are getting better and maybe we will get there. But it still is difficult to make a robot that can adapt and do things humans can.

    Particularly given the speed of light. The fact is that remote control much beyond the Moon becomes increasingly difficult and even Mars is pushing the limit. Beyond there it’s not going to happen.


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