How Curiosity the Robot is Renewing an Interest in Outer Space

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"How Curiosity the Robot is Renewing an Interest in Outer Space"
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The use of robots to explore outer space is not something new as demonstrated by earlier expeditions to Mars such as the ones made by Sojourner rover, Spirit and Opportunity. However, the successful landing of Curiosity rover on the Martian surface turned pages of space exploration rather rapidly and opened up new frontiers for future explorations, which could become more sophisticated, less bulky, less costly and more intelligent. It gives new hope to the scientific community that has been discouraged by the ever-decreasing monetary allocations for space research and further successes of Curiosity would definitely renew the interest with regard to outer space explorations in the years to come.

One important highlight with regard to the landing of Curiosity is the ability of the space engineers to deliver one metric ton of payload on to the Martian surface. In reality, the more weight an expedition is expected carry, more costly the expedition would become. The previous rovers and their scientific equipment ranged from being the size of a briefcase to a large desk. However, with Curiosity, scientists are now able to transport and land an object of the size of a small car with a new delivery mechanism, which is known as the ‘sky crane’.

The problem with earlier landing systems is that they were unable to scale when the payload becomes more although with the ‘sky crane’ technology, the engineers are hopeful that it would be possible to even deliver twice to ten times more payload than the one delivered with Curiosity. This would mean that future robots attempting space exploration would be able to carry and successfully deposit payloads including parts of human habitat, power generation capabilities as well as other scientific equipment without having to rely on un-tested and risky methods. Being able to transport bulky objects would expand the horizons of space engineers imagination and would make future explorations much more interesting.

Another aspect that improved the performance of Curiosity as against its previous expedition robots is that the raw processing power and the decision making capabilities of Curiosity is far better and accurate than its predecessors. For example, Spirit and Opportunity were able to make certain decisions with regard to navigation and the next best targets to observe while the Curiosity is able to process the data it collects using the powerful onboard computer and transmit only the data that it recognizes as important towards the Earth without bulking the transmission. This enables Curiosity to cover more ground rather quickly and to transmit only the useful information back home by processing the raw data in Mars itself. For future expeditions, this would mean that a robot with more autonomy would be able to transmit information from furthest regions of the planetary system without much of a lag between the chunks of information, as it can transmit the most essential information in much smaller chunks.

In addition, Curiosity is also able to teach the scientists how more scientific value can be obtained for a lesser dollar value through sophisticated yet less number of scientific equipment, less number of scientific goals and through more resolution on the work it intends to do. Thus, with a proven technology to land a considerable payload with precision could make matters more interesting to space engineers and motivate the scientific community to undertake even bigger challenges in future space explorations.

More about this author: Dr Pandula Siribaddana

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