How AI and Automation will Ensure NASA’s Mission to Mars
How AI and Automation will Enhance Space Operations
Even before modern computers became a reality, science fiction brought a plethora of examples of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation in the context of outer space. From Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey and the computer on Star Trek to C3PO and R2D2 in Star Wars, it seems that AI and space go together.
Technology has been advancing rapidly, that the technology that landed NASA’s Artemis program plans to send more astronauts after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon by 2024 and eventually progress to Mars. Engineers have spent years developing and refining technology to ensure that these missions safely and efficiently gather the information required for further exploration.
Let’s explore how AI will allow humans to establish permanent colonies on Mars and beyond:
Considering ancient events, Mars has a hazardous environment. It has no magnetic field which indicates that there’s very little protection from solar flares and cosmic rays. It also means that it doesn’t retain heat energy like Earth, causing extreme temperature changes from day to night. As per NASA, the average temperature on Mars is near minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit. During winters, the poles can drop as low as minus 195 degrees Fahrenheit whereas it can reach up to 70 degrees near the equator in the summer.
Such drastic temperatures require an accurate weather model that can warn and prevent the crew from adverse exposure. It’s comparatively easy for anyone to anticipate weather patterns on Earth because we have centuries of meteorological experience to reference. Humankind doesn’t have that luxury on Mars. For many years, orbiting Martian probes and rovers have been gathering massive amounts of weather data. However, there’s no way for a human to analyze data fast enough to understand how the weather patterns change confidently. That’s the reason why we need AI.
Expanding Human Capabilities with AI
The most precious currency in the world for humans is time, especially when it comes to solving problems. AI and automation are shaping industries by enabling humans to spend their time focusing on high-value problems.
In space, these technologies could be transformative, as computers could collect, analyze, and act upon data acquired during flight without involving a human. It is very expensive to send someone into space. For example, in June, NASA announced that it would open the International Space Station to private individuals at roughly USD 35,000 per night per astronaut.
Adopting innovation and breaking away from tradition is what helped humanity land on the moon. Getting to Mars and beyond will require a fundamental shift in the way we deploy off-the-shelf, modular, and self-learning computer infrastructure. Re-evaluation of the design of software and hardware will be required. And an entire environment of companies will need to work together to push the limits of what is currently thought possible.