In the 60s, the world watched as man landed on the moon. It was a historic day for space exploration. Also in the 60s, the first industrial robot started work. Two historic events happened in the same decade; and with technology backing both of them, it was only a matter of time before they intertwined in the form of space robots.
Truthfully, space robots have been around for some time. Considering that a robot can be any machine that can work with a certain level of autonomy, we have been sending robots to space for the past couple of decades. The fly-by planetary probe, Voyager, is one example, and so is the Mars Pathfinder, a robot probe that was made to land on Mars and explore its terrain.
These days, scientists are developing space robots that can completely take over the jobs humans do in space. Considering we have entered the post-shuttle era since the launch of Atlantis, the need for robots in space has become a reality. Robots are actually likely to be more efficient in space than any human could ever be. Machines can operate in the vacuum of space much better than humans. Not to mention the fact that they would be able to withstand the extreme temperatures better than humans, and hold up much better against solar rays.
The types of robots that are likely to emerge as our new space explorers are:
- robots that can operate the International Space Station, carrying out maintenance tasks and performing updates on long term experiments
- robots that repair or update satellites, usually going from satellite to satellite and performing maintenance, thereby prolonging their lives; these robots are also likely to be able to get rid of useless satellites by “throwing” them away
- robots that will continue space explorations, roving over unstudied planets and moons, and gathering data on the elements of other planets.
It is likely that both types of robots will be human controlled from earth, and will only carry out the tasks that are relayed to them through computers. Designing robots that can operate independently, without human instruction is likely to be several years away. But before all that, robotic engineers have to perfect their creations, making sure each machine can withstand the pressures of being launched into space. Given the fact that we have been sending robots to space for some time, however, it is likely that the age of space robots instead of astronauts is actually already here.