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Robots, Astronauts, and You: Exploring Space


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This is an all-ages presentation on the roles of robots and astronauts in space exploration and on how anyone can explore space with the help of a computer through web sites and free downloadable software such as Stellarium (planetarium program, and Orbiter (space flight simulator, When I do this presentation, I typically present live demos of Orbiter and Stellarium, but I also have a number of supplemental slides at the end showing screen shots of the many things you can do with Orbiter.

I have presented this talk as a volunteer NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador and as a member of the Aldrich Astronomical Society in Central Massachusetts.

Published in: Technology, Education

Robots, Astronauts, and You: Exploring Space

  1. Robots,* Astronauts,** and You*** Exploring Space with a Computer! Bruce Irving Aldrich Astronomical Society NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador October 2008 Picture from Orbiter space flight simulator: International Space Station above New England ** *** * * * *
  2. Robots, Astronauts, and You: Exploring Space <ul><li>How do robots help us explore space? </li></ul><ul><li>What can astronauts do that robots can’t do? </li></ul><ul><li>How can you explore space right now? </li></ul><ul><li>Free space stuff! Stellarium, Orbiter, WorldWide Telescope… </li></ul><ul><li>The future: To infinity and beyond? </li></ul>
  3. Robots!
  4. Astronauts!
  5. And You!
  6. Real space robots don’t always look much like robots…
  7. Hubble Space Telescope (HST) Is Hubble a robot? Yes, because it takes complex orders from engineers on the ground that it can remember and follow on its own. Its pictures of faint distant objects often take hours to record – HST must keep itself pointed exactly at the target as it orbits the Earth.
  8. Hubble's Greatest Hits From the web site
  9. The Famous Mars Rovers… Spirit and Opportunity have been roving Mars since January 2004, on a mission that was planned for only 90 sols (Mars days) – they have traveled for miles and have made many discoveries, including various signs of water that flowed millions of years ago when Mars was apparently a much wetter planet than now.
  10. … and the women who drive them! JPL, March 18, 2008 – an all-woman Mars Rover science/engineering team
  11. Cassini: Our robot eyes at Saturn Cassini was launched in 1997 and started orbiting Saturn in 2004. It dropped off a smaller robot called Huygens to land on Saturn’s cloudy moon Titan. Cassini’s orders are complicated, and it has taken thousands of detailed pictures of Saturn and its many moons.
  12. Phoenix: Our latest robot on Mars Right now, Phoenix is digging into the soil near the north pole of Mars, looking for ice (it found it) and for chemicals that could be signs of ancient Martian life.
  13. How robots help us in space <ul><li>Robots don’t need oxygen, water, or food, so they can go on very long trips (they do have to carry rocket fuel and they usually get their electrical power from the Sun using solar panels) </li></ul><ul><li>They are “smart” enough to do some things on their own (like avoiding dangerous situations), though current robots usually can’t change plans or make creative decisions on their own (engineers on Earth can help them solve problems and make changes in their missions) </li></ul><ul><li>They can carry many kinds of cameras and instruments and send their images and scientific findings back to Earth by radio signals </li></ul>
  14. Do you know Buzz? <ul><li>Lightyear </li></ul><ul><li>(in Toy Story) </li></ul>Aldrin (in Lunar Module)
  15. The Real Buzz! Buzz Aldrin at Tranquility Base, July 1969
  16. Astronaut Accomplishments <ul><li>Men and women from the USA, Russia, and other countries have been flying in space since 1961 and have proved that humans can live and work successfully in space, even for months at a time </li></ul><ul><li>They have explored the Moon, repaired broken satellites, done many scientific experiments, and built the huge International Space Station (ISS) that you can see sometimes as a bright, fast moving object high in the evening sky </li></ul><ul><li>They have often had to invent clever solutions and improvise new procedures when things have gone wrong in space </li></ul>
  17. Apollo 17 Astronauts on the Moon Apollo 17 was the last Moon landing to date (December 1972). Commander Gene Cernan (left, with Lunar Rover) and geologist Jack Schmitt (with flag) spent 3 days on the Moon, driving for miles and changing their exploration plans based on what they found. They discovered important clues to the history of the Earth-Moon system.
  18. Astronauts repairing Hubble The Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990 and was designed so that shuttle astronauts could later upgrade it in orbit. But it had a mistake in its telescope optics, so in 1993, the first service mission was used to repair it so it could take good pictures. Later missions upgraded its ability to reveal the secrets of the Universe by studying faint objects billions of light years away.
  19. HST: Before and After Spiral Galaxy M100
  20. Robots and Astronauts Team Up Robots are already helping astronauts in space. The shuttle and the ISS have big “robotic arms” that allow astronauts to move huge objects and be moved around easily for space walks. This is a new multi-arm robot called DEXTRE that’s on the space station now.
  21. Coming up… ROBONAUT! To help astronauts on future missions, NASA is developing an experimental human-shape robot called Robonaut. It will be able to fit in spaces made for humans, and even use tools made for human astronauts. It will probably operate at first by “telepresence” where it will act as the eyes, arms, and hands of an astronaut who is sitting safely inside the spacecraft.
  22. So where do YOU fit in? <ul><li>Exploring space requires a lot of people working together – there are many different jobs to do: it’s not just about astronauts! </li></ul><ul><li>Engineers, scientists, technicians, teachers, computer & robot programmers, managers, and astronauts work together to make space exploration possible </li></ul><ul><li>Private and commercial space flight is expanding, so there will probably be more space-related jobs in the future </li></ul><ul><li>But what can you do right now? </li></ul>
  23. Explore space with a computer!
  24. Explore Space on the Web Check out – they have TONS of great stuff on the web for every age and interest!
  25. Watch the Astronauts Work NASA TV is available for free on the web ( ) and on some cable TV systems. During shuttle and ISS missions, they broadcast live coverage of the launch, docking with the space station, astronaut space walks and other tasks, and landing. You can learn a lot from watching the astronauts work!
  26. Explore Software Simulations <ul><li>Real astronauts, scientists, and engineers train with various types of computerized simulations to learn and practice their complex jobs </li></ul><ul><li>Software space and astronomy simulator programs are available to use on your own computer (they don’t include cockpits like this!) </li></ul><ul><li>Some of the best ones are available for free on the web! </li></ul>NASA Space Shuttle simulator flight deck (fisheye lens view)
  27. Stellarium – Your Free Planetarium! <ul><li> </li></ul>
  28. What is Stellarium? <ul><li>Stellarium is a planetarium simulator program available for free download to install and run on PC and Mac computers </li></ul><ul><li>Once it’s installed, it doesn’t require a web connection to use – if you’ve got a notebook PC or Mac, take it outside on a clear night to help you identify things you see in the sky! </li></ul><ul><li>Stellarium gives you an easy to control view of the sky as it looks from your back yard right now or at any time or place that you set up </li></ul><ul><li>It helps you identify stars, planets, nebulae, constellations, and more </li></ul>
  29. Stellarium Sample Screen
  30. New! WorldWide Telescope New and free from Microsoft is WorldWide Telescope, a wonderful planetarium and astronomy exploration tool. After installation, it still requires a web connection to access and display a wide range of astronomy images from many sources, and includes narrated tours and much more. (Windows only).
  31. Orbiter – Free Space Flight Simulator! <ul><li> </li></ul>
  32. What is Orbiter? <ul><li>Orbiter is a free space flight simulator, a game-like program with 3D graphics that makes you a “virtual astronaut” in the cockpit of a simulated spacecraft </li></ul><ul><li>Unlike most “space games” for PC’s or game consoles, Orbiter is based on real science, so spacecraft behave the way they really do in space </li></ul><ul><li>It’s fun to learn to change your orbit, launch into orbit from Earth, land on the Moon, dock with a space station, and much more </li></ul>
  33. Orbiter Sample Screens Docking with the space station in the Deltaglider, a cool futuristic space plane that you can fly yourself in Orbiter
  34. Go Play In Space – free e-book! <ul><li> </li></ul>
  35. The Future of Space? <ul><li>Space exploration helps us learn about the universe and has also helped us develop many important technologies like computers, weather satellites, GPS, and even cardiac monitors </li></ul><ul><li>Private companies are now working on ways to make money from space, including space tourism and eventually building solar power satellites and even mining the Moon and asteroids </li></ul><ul><li>In making use of space, we are still at a very early stage – who would have predicted a Boeing 747 from the Wright Brothers’ 1903 airplane? </li></ul><ul><li>Earth is tiny, space is huge, and space has abundant materials and energy we can eventually use to support human civilization </li></ul><ul><li>One promising and important use of space technology: figuring out a way to keep an asteroid from hitting the Earth as has happened in the past </li></ul>
  36. The Distant Future? &quot;Since, in the long run, every planetary civilization will be endangered by impacts from space, every surviving civilization is obliged to become spacefaring – not because of exploratory or romantic zeal, but for the most practical reason imaginable: staying alive. If our long-term survival is at stake, we have a basic responsibility to our species to venture to other worlds.&quot; Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot , 1994
  37. Conclusions <ul><li>Robots and astronauts are both important for space exploration, and in the future, they will work together even more as we go back to the Moon and on to Mars </li></ul><ul><li>There are many interesting jobs related to space other than astronauts, and as private companies start to do more in space, there will probably be more </li></ul><ul><li>You can use free software like Orbiter, Stellarium, and World Wide Telescope to have fun and learn about space and astronomy now, but remember… </li></ul><ul><li>The future is exciting, but space is also beautiful and available to see on any clear night – go outside and explore space now! </li></ul>
  38. Join a Space or Astronomy Group <ul><li>You can learn more and help support space exploration by joining a space society </li></ul><ul><ul><li>National Space Society ( ) supports human and robotic exploration </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The Planetary Society is focused on robotic exploration of the planets ( ) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>You can also join a local astronomy club like the Aldrich Astronomical Society in the Worcester, MA area ( ) </li></ul>
  39. Space wants YOU!
  41. Supplemental Slides What Can You Do With Orbiter?
  42. Look Down at New England
  43. Visit the Moon in the future…
  44. …or the past. Apollo Lunar Module (LM) and Lunar Rover in AMSO add-on for Orbiter (Apollo 17 is shown)
  45. Check out Mars…
  46. …one of its small moons, View from Mars orbit, 54 km from Phobos, one of Mars’ two tiny moons
  47. …or something a bit bigger. Jupiter with its volcanic moon Io in the foreground.
  48. Launch the Space Shuttle… Space shuttle Atlantis , 89 seconds after launch, with visible force vectors
  49. Grab the Hubble Space Telescope... Shuttle approaching the Hubble Space Telescope for repairs fall 2008
  50. …or dock with the Space Station.
  51. How does he do that? (with thrusters – Rotation vs. Translation)