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Why do robots have all the fun? May 2, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in General.
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Image Credit: NASA
View of Mars taken by Opportunity.

The robot explorer Opportunity passes a milestone of its ninth year on Mars this month. What a testimony to a first rate engineering team and what can be done if we want to do something difficult. Is it just me or am I the only one who gets irritated that little “rovers” are exploring Mars. Don’t get me wrong, it is nice to know what is on the surface of Mars but when I see incredible vistas and fascinating objects littering the landscape of Mars I get a little jealous.  I want to be the one drilling a rock, climbing the rim of a crater or motoring along the red sands. Well maybe not me, but a human, not a machine. The old videos of the Apollo guys doing, well, human stuff on the Moon, like wringing out the moon buggy or drilling core samples or whatever. Now I can identify with a person doing things that you or I would do, but a little R2 unit clicking and chirping along; that is less that thrilling.

The next “explorer” NASA has in route to Mars is named Curiosity and is set to touch down in August of this year. It is a SUV sized rover that will do what else; sniff out water and microbial life. I think it is time to find out for ourselves if Mars can support life. We should be sending SUV sized remote construction vehicles preparing the infrastructure for a human habitat. Now that is a goal that people could get excited about. We’ll bring our own SUV’s and do some roving for ourselves. Feature an astronaut cruising across a brilliant red dessert landscape with their arm out the window of their space rated Hummer making some dusty tracks to the next ridge to see what is over it when “crunch”. “Oops, sorry little fellow didn’t see you there digging for Mars cooties.”  Microbes, that’s what you use to make beer, not blowing a billion or two in order to find them on Mars for what possible reason?  Humans need to have a little fun too since we foot the bill.

Next time you see a photo of the Mars surface envision yourself at the wheel of your own rover laying down a red dust trail with a huge grin on your face. Now that’s exploring!