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Moon Robotics Space Science News

Japan Plans Moon Base Built By Robots For Robots 253

Posted by Soulskill
from the ceding-the-moon-to-skynet dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Japanese space agency, JAXA, has plans to build a base on the Moon by 2020. Not for humans, but for robots — and built by robots, too. A panel authorized by Japan's prime minister has drawn up preliminary plans for how humanoid and rover robots will begin surveying the moon by 2015, and then begin construction of a base near the south pole of the moon. The robots and the base will run on solar power, with total costs about $2.2 billion USD, according to the panel chaired by Waseda University President Katsuhiko Shirai. 'As currently envisioned, the robots that will land on the lunar surface in 2015 will be 660-pound behemoths equipped with rolling tank-like treads, solar panels, seismographs, high-def cameras, and a smattering of scientific instruments. They'll also have human-like arms for collecting rock samples that will be returned to Earth via rocket.'"
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Japan Plans Moon Base Built By Robots For Robots

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  • Just $2.2 Billion? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by timeOday (582209) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @09:38AM (#32388418)
    Funding to the Space Shuttle has been around $5 billion per year for most of the last 30 years or so, and just keeping the program on operational life support was quoted at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_program [wikipedia.org]">$2.5 billion per year in early 2009.

    So if they deliver that entire program whose lifetime costs are only 2.2 Billion, I would be super impressed. In fact I would be impressed if we did it ourselves for 5 times that amount.

  • and why, exactly? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Johann Lau (1040920) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @09:42AM (#32388444) Homepage Journal

    Why would you want the US to "take the Moon"?

    Fuck Empire. Everywhere, always. Don't take that bullshit to space, kthx.

  • by sqrt(2) (786011) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @09:45AM (#32388464) Journal

    I would imagine that the prices drop dramatically once you don't have to worry about sending humans up, keeping them alive, and returning them safely.

  • by Johann Lau (1040920) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @10:01AM (#32388548) Homepage Journal

    That's because I'm German and when it comes to the things you jokingly brag about, America is nothing but a shitty noob compared to stuff which sadly is much closer to my home. (I guess any European could say that: America is a kid still utterly fascinated by things the adolescents are growing tired of...)

    As such I'm very much aware of the following hierarchy (just an example):

    [people who own America]
    [people who own third world countries like Germany]
    ["Americans"]
    ["Germans"]

    So when such a patriot says "we pwn you", it just means "the people that pwn me also pwn you." Another example is "we (sic!) have the nukes": nope, your owners do, they also own the bunkers, and they definitely lack a healthy lack of concern for you or anyone you care about.

    It's true, too, and that's why all the flag/dick waving is utterly ridiculous unless you're a billionaire. You're basically waving someone elses dick.

    Which is an icky thing to do.

    Fuck Empire.

  • All I can say is "Its about time." The human body is not designed to operate in space, indeed almost all biological systems on Earth that reside under nice "shields" including the magnetic field, the atmosphere, the ozone layer or even the oceans and they were not designed (evolved) to withstand the hazards of space. Ignoring minor topics like micrometeorites and the lack of atmosphere one has the ongoing problem of radiation exposure. Humans for example have 150-200 genes in the genome (~1%) whose purpose is to repair DNA damage. It does not do so reliably (so radiation causes gradual genome decay). And although one may develop "shields" this makes activities by humans in space inherently more expensive than using the right "organism" [1]. Anyone aware of robotics research knows that the Japanese are pushing this forward at a very rapid pace. Presumably much faster than one can push forward human "evolution" [2].

    Yes humans can engineer suits, habitats, shields, rovers, etc. which would allow humans to operate in such alien environments. But *why* do this? One has to remember that the "moon rocks" were brought back to Earth for analysis. We have to develop the remote robotics operations capabilities for exploration anyway [3]. Lets do it for the moon first.

    If people want to go places to say "I have been there", then fine let them pay for it (as private citizens or organizations) -- just don't expect all the rest of us to pay for your expensive vacation. The robotic development of the moon could serve as a prelude for human colonies there (to preserve humanity from terrestrial impacts) or taking vacations there. The moon is close enough that round trip radio can be used to control or reprogram robots in the event of complex/unforseen situations (remember we reprogrammed the Galileo mission when it proved necessary). The "nightmare" scenario of robots evolving into autonomous entities (a new robotic species) only arises when one is dealing with situations where remote control and/or reprogramming are not possible and one has designed the robots both self-reproduction and intelligence enhancement capabilities -- and I think we are still quite some distance from those achievements.

    1. References to using a hammer as a screwdriver apply when using humans in space. Astronauts require additional tools and training to work in space. Instead design the systems to be easily maintained and repaired by robots in space.
    2. Ideally if one wanted humans to live in space one would use genetic engineering to produce humans which were radiation tolerant. This not only has benefits from a space exploration standpoint -- such humans would likely have reduced cancer rates as well. But such developments are at least a generation away.
    3. I have yet to see a single proposal for a single human "submarine" or a human colony to explore the oceans of Europa to search for life or provide a humanity "safe room".

  • Re:Yay and nay (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @10:31AM (#32388774) Journal

    No, it isn't pointless, not for teleoperation - and Moon is just close enough to at least consider it with skilled human operators.

    And the longer they're up there for, the cheaper this becomes, in comparison to humans. Even ignoring the costs of getting food and oxygen there and maintaining life support systems, humans need to be brought back periodically. You need to rotate the crew, and sending a couple of people to the moon and back, even once per year, quickly gets expensive. With robots up there, you can put different experts in the control center every week for a comparatively tiny cost.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 29, 2010 @10:53AM (#32388878)

    The human body is not designed to operate in space,

    No shit Sherlock! It's also not designed to withstand a lot of the extreme weather present in various locations of the earth, say, the Antarctica, Mt. Everest (and many other very high mountains), free diving 100m deep in the ocean, and the list goes on. But that hasn't stopped exploration and dreaming, and just pure adventurism. The human mind is a curious little thing, that finds joy in achieving things that have very little actual purpose. In all honesty, space exploration is just about as meaningless in any tangible, logical way, as free diving. But we find immaterial tangibility and reason to do so, simply because we're curious and adventurous, in ways only our minds can understand. Any other life form on earth, if they could speak, would probably say "hell no I don't wanna go there! Take me somewhere a bit more comfortable thank you very much!"

    So what I'm saying is that just because we're not built to do it, doesn't mean we shouldn't, or don't want to. At the moment, I think we can achieve more by sending robots to work a few more things out first. But in the long run, that is just a preliminary step to figuring out ways we can do it ourselves. Expect plenty of excuses along the way as to why it needs to be human. But in the end, it is the desire to just be there and do that. That curiosity is what propels us to advance though, so don't be so fast to discount it.

  • by Johann Lau (1040920) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @10:57AM (#32388898) Homepage Journal

    unless you're very, very rich, that'd make you "Chinese" though, not "people who own China" or "people who own America". that's the whole point! a pawn is a pawn is a pawn, and it's better to not own anybody or anything and not be a pawn, than to be super mostest world leader of #1 acclaim and, well, be a pawn.

    pawn. pawn pawn pawn. :D

  • by Tim C (15259) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @11:52AM (#32389266)

    For what it's worth, I hate it when people use the title to start their post; it's meant to be the subject, not the first part of the first sentence...

  • remote control (Score:2, Insightful)

    by strack (1051390) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @11:54AM (#32389286)
    the interesting thing is the moon is close enough for near real time control of the robots. your looking at a 2-3 second delay between the command and the visual feedback, but id say thats enough for a remote control type situation. give them a way to melt rocks on the moon, and a way to do some robot cnc tool actions, and i bet you can make damn near anything.
  • I'm not talking about REM sleep. I'm talking about physical damage to DNA caused by ionizing radiation (gamma-rays & X-rays where the photons have enough energy to split water molecules) which produces hydroxyl radicals in the nucleus that attack the DNA. Similar but more extensive damage is caused by heavy ions (charged Fe, C, O, etc. that stream through space -- and ultimately contribute to cosmic ray showers). The only way to shield from the high energy photons is a lot of mass (e.g. lead or an equivalent mass of liquid/solid H) [what one wants is "nucleus" density). In a pinch one could get by with a lot of water/ice which has other uses and probably has to be carried along unless you have a completely closed recycling environmental system with zero losses.

    I was quite surprised that current NASA policy limits total space time of astronauts so as to *only* increase their lifetime cancer risk by something like 4-6% -- and that is for non-lunar flights within the magnetosphere (which does a lot of the shielding for us). Presumably if one is willing to sit on top of tons of rocket fuel one can view future cancer risk as acceptable. But that wasn't considering months or years of total time in space.

    And while yes, the human body is capable of a lot of self-repair and most robots are not but that doesn't mean that they cannot be designed with sufficient redundancy (4 antennas instead of 2, 8 wheels instead of 6, etc.) or have "spares" available, etc. In case you haven't noticed a *lot* of what has been going up in the Space Shuttle recently has been spare parts to extend the lifetime of the space station. A properly designed robotic colony would have a robot replacement part warehouse just like any factory on Earth which requires 24/7 operation. And you might notice that on the Apollo missions I don't think there was a physician on the crew manifest nor was there an operating room available for serious injuries. So the repair capabilities for humans in space are somewhat limited compared to what they are in developed societies here on Earth. No holographic doctors at the Moon Colony.

  • by pyalot (1197273) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @02:06PM (#32390206)
    You'll have to excuse my [sigh], but you're falling into the same trap as most, but you're so close to realizing it, yet fail to make the leap.

    Launching things off earth is not very economical. Why do we do it? We do it because there are good reasons to do it (satellite industry and scientific endeavors). If you combine all commercially rendered space services, and then also add all the funding scientific missions get, you're at a multi trillion market a year.

    Building an industrial complex on the moon doesn't help you lift things off earth. What it does do is let you launch things off the moon, into earth orbit and elsewhere, quite easily.

    If you can build and launch things off the moon, you can suddenly offer a service that is worth trillions a year in Earth dollars, at a marginal cost. Yes, there is an up-front investment to make it happen. Yes that investment is rather large. But how long do you think you'll need to recover say a 500 billion investment if you can serve a multi trillion a year market and be able to underbid anybody else?

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