The End Of Astronauts

Why Robots Are the Future of Exploration

Donald Goldsmith and Martin Rees, 2022, Bvt Lib 629.4

Two 80ish astronomer-observers. Out of 574 astronauts (as of 2022 Oct), only two of those have been astronomer-observers: John Mace Grunsfeld and Karl Gordon Heinize.

This book claims that astronauts are not necessary for the scientific exploration of the solar system. Perhaps this is true if astronauts are programmed as robots, and are not expected to make creative contributions in situations that require iterative hand-eye feedback, or must not be interrupted by solar conjunctions. So the real question is, are astronauts contributors and thinkers, or are they ornery robots?

p8 astrophysicist David Spergel, "our history as humans has shown that first we screw things up, and then we make some things right"

p18 "No Buck Rogers, no bucks" - reference to 1984 congressional testimony.

p20 public opinion polls: authors choose 2019 C-SPAN poll to gauge public interest. C-SPAN is watched by 39 million Americans at least once a week. Not exactly representative.

p21 National Academy of Sciences poll of "stakeholders", the other pigs at the trough. 60% thought increasing knowledge was an important reason for space exploration, but they differed on how and why.

p23 "Six spheres of exploration" include habitat construction on the Moon, but not in asteroids.

p28 Deimos and Phobos "near-ideal observing platforms to support complex instruments for surveying the red planet."

p30 necessary energy expenditure "at least $1250 per pound. ISS $7.5M per astronaut day ($150B/20K days). Includes shuttle expense (sunk cost fallacy)

p33 57000 total days in space, (30K Russian)

p36 ZBLAN optical fiber in zero gee, automated test on ISS. Yes, when it works, robots can do it, but who debugs anomalies and how?

p43 Coronal Mass Ejections: "A traveler in space would need thick, heavyweight shielding to avoid serious damage or death from a powerful CME ... outside the magnetosphere." Reference to near earth orbit (assuming this means LEO) is BS, the Earth field is much too strong for a CME to penetrate. GEO and farther out, yes, a problem requiring decent shielding.

p44 ... "steady barrage from solar wind" ... ditto

p45 ... "30% of deaths arose from cancer" ... how does that compare to and age-and-health matched group of non-astronauts? Cancer is 17% of US all-cause mortality, which includes elderly deaths and accidents. Astronauts die more often in jet crashes, too.

p46 kvetching about satellite light pollution; agreed, but this is from unmanned satellites. p47 kvetching about microplastics in the ocean.

p61 lunar helium 3 and water extraction - yes, silly.

p77 "using our best technology, each journey requires nearly seven months" Our best technology for robots is a minimum energy Hohmann transfer ( 7 to 8 months ) but a higher delta V trip can be 5 or fewer months

p81 "To take sample return as an example, the tasks involved include reaching Mars, choosing the best locations to sample, drilling into the rocks or soils at those locations, extracting the material and sealing it for study, bringing the material to earth, and examining the samples with the instruments best suited for the task." p82 Robots "... cannot match the brain of an experienced geologist"

p83 Chris McKay says robots won't match a human geologist, and require 30x (2x doubling per decade, 50 years) improvement to match a capable field assistant. So why not ditch autonomy, make the control loop seconds, and the sample cycle months or even weeks?

p88 ref. 5.17 Ben Lindberg, Please Sterilize Your Spacecraft

p95 "The odds of a catastrophic impact will occur during the next few millennia are very low"

p102 worries about escape of dust and debris from asteroid mining

p103 "Do we have the right to do whatever we choose with the products of 4.6 billion years of cosmic evolution?"

p148 "What of the deeply held desires of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to send humans to Mars despite the rationale expressed earlier?" Sloppy - Bezos is non-planetary space colonies. Which and whose rationale expressed earlier?

p149-50 2021 Mitch Daniels, co-chair of National Academy of Sciences Pathways to Exploration

Does not mention Aldrin cyclers between planets. Space colonies can be both destination and transport, with occasional planetary interchange.

TheEndOfAstronauts (last edited 2022-10-21 09:14:57 by KeithLofstrom)