No industry today is free from the grip of AI. However, the technology we use today is still in its nascent stage and very rudimentary forms are applied in daily operations. Future implications of AI can be huge and much more sophisticated than the ones in use today. NASA scientists predict that AI will be at the forefront of space travel in future with the much more sophisticated application.
How AI will Help Space Travel
Space missions where AI robots working as astronauts can be launched in future. The behavior of the space probes, missions and trajectories will be governed by AI-powered machines instead of human prompts from earth. Till now humans have been successful in controlling the space missions. However, for further and more advanced space exploration beyond our galaxies, handing controls over the robots seems more reasonable. To achieve this, AI will have to take a great leap forward in terms of advancement and precision. The need for AI in space mission stems from the following advanced applications that AI can provide.
Advanced technology to send humans all over the universe at a reasonable speed is still not available. So, without a technological breakthrough traveling vast distances in space will take up a huge amount of time. It takes a lot of time to travel light years in space and by the time it reaches its destination, a whole new generation of scientists will be alive. A human lifespan of average 80 years seems very short. So, AI will lead the future of space travel because of its longevity and durability over human astronauts.
Moreover, once AI-powered missions become automated, it will enable us to collect data from the places where human communication is hard to send. It will help us to understand and explore the universe further. Unless these responsibilities are handed over to AI, advancing in these areas simply by human communication and probes will be really difficult.
Incorporation of AI also implies a potential reduction of costs in future due to less requirement of teams on earth to control the missions and make detailed plans for deep space missions. So, humans can focus on what they are good at, like high-level decisions, while machines can focus on making thousands of smaller decisions.
AI Already in Use
NASA has already been using AI to explore our own galaxy. The Spirit and Opportunity rovers, which were launched in 2003, had an AI driver named Autonav, which facilitated exploration of Mars’ surface. Curiosity, the Mars rover, also relies on a system called AEGIS or Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science.
The AI-based system is designed to analyze and select traits of Mars that it deems as interesting and then document and share the data from findings back home. With more advancement, AI will be capable of fully monitoring a probe.
Major Challenges that Lie Ahead
Firstly, it is likely that probes in future will traverse distances so far and remote that they might no longer be in the range of wireless communications. So, the major challenge is that if the probes move outside of the communication range, AI will have to work out its own path ahead to continue the journey and also return the necessary data that is collected. As a result, machines will have to figure out how to do this on their own without any human prompt. It will also have to develop an understanding of the type of data documented to send back relevant information. So, increasing autonomy is essential for future space missions.
Secondly, the earlier unexplored areas are likely to have a new range of environmental difficulties. For this, the AI robots must adapt accordingly to various conditions and elements without any outside inputs. Further research and development is needed in this area that enables future power applications for space travel which can endure the bitter and cold temperatures of deep space without the loss of valuable heat. Moreover, a technology facilitating long travels and which is easily rechargeable should be developed since a dead battery on a space probe can defer several years of work.
Thirdly, there is a huge communication delay in space probes. A message from Earth to Pluto takes about five hours to arrive. So, AI system should be well adapted to take immediate action and not rely on human instructions in the event of an unexpected encounter. The ability of self-thinking and automation is crucial for future AI applications.
Finally, there are always risks associated with new technologies. New capabilities are adopted only when they offer overwhelming benefits to a mission. So, the technology should be carefully integrated and engineered to manage risk.
Outer space is the final frontier of human applications and AI is slowly creeping its way into space exploration projects. However, there is still a long way to go. AI application of today still needs human intelligence and instructions to do its work. With further innovation, humans and AI machines should work in collaboration to understand and explore the universe better.