AI role in space exploration

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Artificial intelligence is one of the most debated topics in the field of computer science and beyond. The question is: is it really a field that can make progress to humanity or is it just a bubble overestimated and driven mainly by marketing?

Marketing certainly plays a fundamental role in the spread of artificial intelligence, and terms such as machine learning, deep learning, and neural networks are often used even in situations that do not require certain technologies. But they sell more.

Despite this, there are fields where artificial intelligence can make a real difference, and one of them is space exploration.

At a time when AI wasn’t such a widespread concept, NASA’s Curisity (2012) rover was equipped with a navigation system that thanks to artificial intelligence could identify obstacles in its path and generate commands to avoid them.
Going even further back, in 2000 was launched EO-1 (Earth Observer 1) that is able to detect natural phenomena, even catastrophic, well in advance of a human being.

Why use AI in space

In fact, it’s almost logical: in situations where the transmission of data takes too long to send immediate inputs, because of the long distances, for example, we need tools that can make instant decisions independently. This is where artificial intelligence plays a key role.

The most useful feature of a computer is that it is able to detect details that would be imperceptible to a human being. In fact, in this field, artificial intelligence can help us, for example, to detect exoplanets that can sustain life. And there are so many planets that could potentially sustain life, that if we humans had to analyze them all, it would take us thousands of years before we could find only one. A computer equipped with artificial intelligence could perform this task at a much higher speed. By saving us a lot of time.

Moreover, all exoplanets are very far from us, if we were to send probes to analyze them, or tools to land on the surface, we must necessarily rely on the ability of these probes to make decisions independently, not being able to wait hours, days, weeks or years before receiving our instructions.

Or, thinking even bigger, on very long journeys of exploration, the astronauts on board will need computers that can help them in cases of emergency, for example, since they can not communicate with us, or at least can not wait for the long response times from the earth.
Without going into interstellar travel, some steps in this direction have already been taken: in June 2018 he was sent to the international space station CIMON, a small spherical robot with artificial intelligence, which could interact with the astronauts thanks to facial recognition.

Not only exploration but also observation

Without going so far from our planet, artificial intelligence can offer considerable help to astronauts during the most complex maneuvers. For example, SpaceX and Boeing have designed the capsules that bring astronauts and food to the International Space Station with an automatic docking system.

Conclusions

All the world’s space agencies have grasped (for some time now in reality) the great potential of artificial intelligence, and all future missions will have an increasingly important component managed by artificial intelligence.

If in the future we could delegate many tasks to computers and robots equipped with artificial intelligence, we humans could concentrate on doing what we do best: experimenting, exploring and solving the problems of physics and making progress for humanity.

More than marketing.


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Photo by Bill Jelen on Unsplash