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NASA Mars Robotics Space

NASA Suggests Nano Robots To Explore Mars 104

destinyland writes "'We're going to have to do extensive robotic exploration,' says the director of NASA's Ames Research Center, suggesting nanotechnology to build self-replicating robots on Mars. Genetically engineering extraction and construction microbes could 'grow' electrical components, and eventually convert carbon dioxide on Mars into oxygen. 'If we really want to settle Mars, and we don't want to have to carry millions of tons of equipment with us to duplicate the way we live on Earth, these technologies will be key.' This interview with Peter Worden, the director of NASA's Ames Research Center, was just featured in the summer issue of H+ magazine, and he also argues that robots will be necessary to first survey Mars for underground microbes and protect the unique Martian biosphere, since it may contain clues about earth's own first life forms. In fact, given the water and carbon that's been discovered on Mars, the possibility of underground microbes is still considered real, and Worden argues that Mars 'may already be supporting life.'"
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NASA Suggests Nano Robots To Explore Mars

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  • Finally (Score:4, Funny)

    by lxs ( 131946 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @09:23AM (#28556695)

    It has taken a while, but finally NASA is taking my plans to use an army of nanobots to build pyramids on Mars seriously.

  • by wereHamster ( 696088 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @09:25AM (#28556725)
    Replicators in Stargate: []
    • by BobMcD ( 601576 )

      This is an interesting thought. Even without sci-fi endings, isn't it imaginable that robots such as these would be hard to stop? Is a Mars with zero CO2 preferable to what we have now? And if not, how are we going to kill them once we decide they're done? And, for bonus points, what will they think about that?

      • Is an EMP effective against nanorobots?
        • by BobMcD ( 601576 )

          Probably, but if you miss even ONE, they'll rebuild and come back.

        • by Jurily ( 900488 )

          Is an EMP effective against nanorobots?

          Terraforming kind of loses its purpose if you have to nuke the planet to oblivion afterwards. Unless of course you have a better way of generating a strong enough wave.

          • EMP != nuke even if you use a nuke to create it. It totally depends on altitude and whether you cause fallout from driving debris into the air. etc. That said if you're building a bunch of electroincs with these nanobots then they're probably not going to work post EMP.
      • You can design them to be wiped with an EMP, or to stop working when they're out of a specific magnetic field (and have such a magnetic field when you want them to work), a bit like some laboratory bacteria are made unable to synthesize proteins that they need so they can't survive in the wild. You could also make them solar powered and use a solar shade when you're done.

        • by BobMcD ( 601576 )

          Or, or, or we could make them all female! And omit any frog DNA...

        • by omeomi ( 675045 )

          You can design them to be wiped with an EMP, or to stop working when they're out of a specific magnetic field (and have such a magnetic field when you want them to work), a bit like some laboratory bacteria are made unable to synthesize proteins that they need so they can't survive in the wild. You could also make them solar powered and use a solar shade when you're done.

          Well, then they'll just build/generate their own magnetic field, or dismantle your solar shade machine...

          • With only wind and solar power they will be nothing more than helpless little hippies, ripe for a good hosing! Right? Please tell me that is true. I certainly don't want some granola-munching nanobots telling me what to do!
            • by omeomi ( 675045 )

              With only wind and solar power they will be nothing more than helpless little hippies, ripe for a good hosing! Right? Please tell me that is true. I certainly don't want some granola-munching nanobots telling me what to do!

              I imagine they'll eventually learn to feed on human flesh.

        • You could also make them solar powered and use a solar shade when you're done.

          Hurrah for the plan that'll eventually result in us requiring the creation of a "nuclear winter" scenario (or the sky blackening in Animatrix)!

        • Unless they then go ahead and evolve somehow. Random mutation in their replication algorithm, caused by solar radiation interference and bam! you've got yourself an unstoppable self-replicating army of nanobots. Skynet eat your heart out! QuantumPete
          • Design them with only the storage capacity for caching a subset of the replication/operation program, and just continually broadcast the whole thing. Allows for quick bugfixes while you're at it. Now, good luck figuring out the receiver...
      • Wouldn't you program the robots into detecting an 'acceptable' amount of a certain material and stopping once there is that much there...
  • ... but most of the heavy lifting is going to come from genetically engineered microbes.

    I've been following with interest the bacteria that was recently revived from the ice core samples. The assumption (logical or not) is that if they can survive that extreme situation they may be adapted to this sort of extreme condition.

    With GE we can introduce traits, perhaps not as specific as we'd like, but still to tailor the needs. Bacteria that can break down iron oxide into Fe or other easily smeltable materials- that could extract gold (there has been some postulation that 'tracer' gold is nothing more than bacterial waste). We already have some plants that can selectively uptake metals and sequester them in the cellulose - but then breeding those with any other traits destroyed the character set that was capable of doing so.

    I should also state I'm a fan of Mars from KSR- and if we start introducing extremophile bacterial colonies we may never find out if life evolved on that planet. I for one am waiting for that little tidbit and the Vatican's response (I expect it to be something along the lines of "Not intelligent thus God discarded the world as unsuitable", but I digress).

    I say go for it... but I'd really really really want to know that the lab doing the work was fully set up to prevent accidental releases. While an extremophile may not like the conditions outside as too energetic... I'd hate to find out they're quickly adaptable - with those cell walls specifically thickened and hardened to handle UV (another assumption on my part) as well as low pressure they might just turn out to be a bitch to kill. Then again, keeping them in conflict with the UV sterilizer lights might just be the way to grow them hardier :)

    • The idea sounds very good in principle, but I am worried about what happens if we get the DNA coding wrong, I'm not expecting Day of the Triffids stuff here, but do we really know enough about what each little bit of DNA does to be sure we wont create something we'll regret?

      I"m in favour of GM crops, mainly because I feel that is simply an acceleration of selective breeding, but engineering a process into an organism that does not normally do this worries me. (I realise that this too can be seen as accele

    • I don't see the need for all of the complications. Going through all of that is completely pointless. Send me to Mars. I'll make robots for NASA if they send me a little food and water every once in a while. Hell, if anyone has ever met some of my ex-girlfriends they would know I'm completely immune to cold.

  • Only Sci-Fi (Score:5, Insightful)

    by A. B3ttik ( 1344591 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @09:30AM (#28556761)
    He basically said: "In order to colonize Mars, we will need to use Technology that doesn't exist yet but I bet that it'll probably be kind of like this."

    Not to rain on anyone's parade, but I'm not sure how this is newsworthy, since it's completely idle speculation.
    • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
      Well, they did not go to the Moon using existing technology...
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Well, they did not go to the Moon using existing technology...

        The technology needed to go to the moon was at least all pretty clear when we decided to do it. We'd already been up in space a few times. We knew how to make most of the bits and pieces we'd need, or at least knew exactly what the things we were missing would look like. We, at the least, knew where to start. In this case it really is pure speculation since we don't even know where to start in engineering the sort of nano technology he's talking about. Maybe 10 years from now something like this might

        • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
          In May 1961, when the moon race was kickstarted by Kennedy, we knew next to nothing about putting a man on the Moon. We knew it should be possible, in theory. we spent billions and it happened despite the drawbacks.
          Use one tenth of the Apollo's program budget, and you'll get self-replicating machines in the next ten years. Give it the same budget and you'll get them in 5 years, with 5 years left to miniaturize.
    • It's newsworthy as it demonstrates how the "absurd" ideas that Drexler proposed more than 20 yrs ago, while still in many areas theoretical, continues to gain in relevance when discussing real science. To call it idle speculation ignores the billions of dollars in research and development that is happening now...obviously, right under your nose.

      If it makes you feel more comfortable go back to Sci-Am articles about 10 years ago when Gary Stix published several stories arguing about the impossibilities of

  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Thursday July 02, 2009 @09:32AM (#28556783)
    Can we even build "Self-replicating nano robots" on EARTH?
  • by alta ( 1263 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @09:42AM (#28556881) Homepage Journal

    Seriously, has no one at NASA watched stargate? I can tell you how this ends.

    1. NASA creates self replicating nanobot to perform a useful function
    2. life form develops beyond their wildest dreams.
    3. replicators begin attacking humans.
    4. replicators begin to LOOK like humans.
    5. O'neal sticks his face in some mind alterning THING that implants all the knowledge of the ancients.
    6. O'neal makes BFG 3000 that can blast them, but it's not enough.
    7. Daniel and Carter link all the stargates, creating one big distributed network (internet?)
    8. Ba'al, big evil Goa'uld, knows the secret code to set off super-weapon in the temple where the Jaffa live...
    9. 'super radiation' kills travels through all the portals across the universe, killing off the replicators.

    So, someone go ahead and tell NASA to cut it out.
    Can't they see this ended badly?
    Somehow this lead to a new storyline with the stupid Oreye, Ori, whatever they are.

    • 10) We find ANOTHER set of near identical replicators that were left in place by the ancients.
      12) We figure out how to freeze them
      13) They get un frozen and start to do their job of taking out the wraith by killing the food source (humans)
      14) McKay figures out rather than breaking APART the nanites, we crank up their bond and suck them all into a black hole.

  • Maybe I've watched too much science fiction, but building self-replicating robots never seems to turn out quite the way you'd want. A few examples: the NS5 robots from I, Robot, the Decepticons - although those weren't man-made, and the Cylons. Is this something we want to recreate? Because humanity only survived the Cylon invasion thanks to the Galactica, so maybe NASA should think about building a few Battlestars before they go messing around with things they don't fully understand. Hey, maybe that's wha
  • Self replicating nano-technology is far in the future, it is good NASA looks into it, but there is only one good thing I would take out of his proposal and apply it immediately : robots sent to Mars need to be autonomous. 20-40 minutes of lag is not a good way to drive a rover. Have a dozen of cheap rovers, give them a daily (or even hourly) schedule of things to do, and, for god's sake, let them do their things autonomously ! DARPA's Grand Challenge has proven since 2005 (or was it 2004 ?) that autonomous
  • One of the real problems with sending a colony of air breathers to Mars is that the atmosphere there is thin. The atmosphere is thin because the planetary magnetosphere is not a strong enough protective shield to protect it from being eroded by solar wind. We underestimate the benefits to us here on Earth with regard to our own planetary magnetic field.

    Ironically, it may take only a minor improvement in the strength of the Martian magnetosphere to provide sufficient protection to allow us to harvest atmosph

    • by maxume ( 22995 )

      So we should all send our old hard drives to NASA?

      • by dkh2 ( 29130 )

        Just caught the double entendre. LOL!

        Yes, a sufficient number of magneto driven devices might have an impact on the planetary magnetic field (magnetosphere).

        Perhaps we should just send the villain from the X-Men series and save two worlds at once!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tangent128 ( 1112197 )
      Hmm... semi-serious-question: how much would it cost to just surround the Martian equator with a closed circuit of solar cells? And would that current generate a sufficient magnetic field?
      • by maxume ( 22995 )

        The cost would be enormous (the cheapest way I can think of would be to establish a colony there to manufacture and install them...).

        I have no idea about the magnetic field, but I imagine that it would take an enormous array to get anywhere close (I don't think even our largest transmission lines are noticeable in space...).

        If the giant circuit idea is practical from a physics standpoint, it would probably be vastly cheaper to do it using nuclear power.

  • Evil not included (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Colonel Korn ( 1258968 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @09:57AM (#28557055)

    Ignoring the robots-turning-evil angle on this, let's consider a more likely scenario. Probably any self replicating nano-things would be bacteria, or possibly very small machines that act like bacteria. I see two very likely scenarios that don't require any sort of thought, agency, or evil on their part:

    1) Being designed to convert CO2 to O2, some of these things get carried back to earth (inside of human lungs, perhaps) and radically alter earth's atmosphere, or

    2) They mutate and start metabolizing other things, like rocks or people.

    • dont we already have enough bacteria on this planet/in our bodies that can "mutate and start metabolizing other things"?

      from what i understand there are more bacterial cells in your body than your own (in quantity, not im mass) - i think theyve got enough of a chance already

      ok, so having more UV speeds up evolution, but by what factor? and how would they evolve to metabolise humans if there are no humans around?

      seriously, this is NOT a real issue...
  • Here come those replicators we heard about on SG1 or in that movie Screamers.....I thought we would have a little more time to set up before the onslaught started...!

  • How about we try it out here first? We have plenty of extra CO2 floating around that won't be missed, and I don't think anyone on Mars would complain if we do ours first.

  • I remember watching Tomorrow's World a decade or more ago and they were talking of terraforming Mars... I've been waiting since! Scientists are coming up with different ideas of terraforming and a lot are on the basis of what technology will be available in the future... it seems the future is possibly even further away that Duke Nukem Forever!
  • in that, you look at your average list of requirements that nanotech is supposed to fulfill, and pretty much some microbe or insect already does most of that

    i think to satisfy the requirements here, you start with a preexisting microbe to do all the terraforming requirements. and if its something bizarre like surveillance you want, you work that into an insect somehow. now if you are thinking using insects for surveillance on mars is insane, i'm saying i agree with you. only that genetically engineering a p

  • another round of "Total Recall" jokes... get 'em while they're hot.
  • nano size, because Mars Rovers moved too fast.

  • Handful of insects
    thrown to the Martian red sky
    all fall and promptly die
    without atmosphere
    noone can fly
    experiment failed
    but tax dollars flow my way...

  • Develop Nano-bots capable of exploring Mars....

    /Step 2: Reprogram nano-bots to consume Earth...

  • The Pathfinder was the size of toy car.
    Spirit and Opportunity the size of golf cart.
    Curosity (Mars Science Lab) is the size of an SUV. This last one is is over two years late, a billion over budget, and tempting Congress to cut NASA's budget drastically.
  • All hail! (Score:1, Redundant)

    by kheldan ( 1460303 )
    I, for one, welcome our self-replicating nanotechnological robotic Martian overlords!
  • What the fuck? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Dunbal ( 464142 )

    and protect the unique Martian biosphere,

          So this guy has already discovered life on Mars, huh? After all, you don't get a BIOsphere without BIOS - life.

          Another idiot talking out of his ass.

  • It's unclear whether self-replicating "nanobots" are even possible to engineer, let alone possible to engineer in the next 50 years. We barely have MEMS, let alone NEMS, and as far as I know, virtually all of those MEMS systems are fabricated top-down (using focused ion beam milling and other such high-energy laboratory devices) not bottom-up. Self-replication is another thing entirely.

    I understand that NASA is founded on "long-view" principles, but seriously, sometimes we need to understand the current sta

    • by jcr ( 53032 )

      It's unclear whether self-replicating "nanobots" are even possible to engineer, let alone possible to engineer in the next 50 years

      Well, there is the existence proof of bacteria and other microbes. Whether we can make equivalent machines remains to be seen, but there's no physical law preventing it.


  • Has nobody read "The Intrepid" by Stanislaw Lem? Seriously? Nanorobots?
  • First I read a Slashdot story about flesh eating robots and then one about some NASA guy who wants to make SELF-REPLICATING robots?? Hello?? Self-replicating flesh eating robots?? I mean! These things will live by The Three Laws: Kill em, Chop em up, Eat em!! I mean! Dood!! I know we have a population problem and all but! Dood!!!
  • How long before we get nano probes to explore Uranus? Really, REALLY sorry. Just had to ask.
  • Extracting oxygen's all well and good, but even if we do that, would there be enough atmosphere on Mars to make it livable?


    • Extracting oxygen's all well and good, but even if we do that, would there be enough atmosphere on Mars to make it livable?

      I'm not sure the whole idea is well thought out yet. He seems to be proposing inventing technology to do what algae do today. There's likely a COTS extremophile algae that can do it already in the area that has snowfall.

      IIRC you need to increase the mass of Mars to have an Earth-like atmosphere.

  • If we get to the technology level we can build self-replicating nano machines that can survive and function outside very specific laboratory conditions / external energy input. The world would have already been long radically transformed by nanotechnology. Thus it makes the grey goo scenario unlikely (since we'd have the technology level to defend against this problem) and importantly, it means we would have long had the technology ability to go to mars more traditional ways easily and get a colony started.

  • If they really were self-replicating they might compete with life already there, unless very firmly under human control.

    That said it is a nice idea since small payload = small investment, but we will probably need some civilian teams compete in an X-prize for progressively more powerful airborne / hunting bots on our own planet. I don't think I would like what they come up with to become common Earth-side. They sound very annoying and dangerous.

"How many teamsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "FIFTEEN!! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"