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Wolfgang Fink: "Where does the human end, and the machine begin? Should robots have rights? This is what we will run into eventually." (Photo: Bob Demers/UANews)

Humans, Machines Enter a New Orbit

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Humans, Machines Enter a New Orbit

March 28, 2018
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As humans prepare to push off from the safe haven of Earth and embark on journeys into deep space, a new generation of explorers is in the making -- some of them human, some robotic and some with aspects of both.

For almost 20 years, humans have maintained a continuous presence beyond Earth. The International Space Station has provided a habitat where humans can live and work for extended periods of time.

Yet, despite having established a permanent base for life in space, terra firma is always in reach — within 254 miles, to be exact. If a crew member were to fall seriously ill, he or she could make the return trip back to Earth in a matter of hours. 

"As soon as you venture beyond low Earth orbit, to go to Mars or even further, bailing out no longer is an option," says Wolfgang Fink, associate professor and Keonjian Endowed Chair in the UA's College of Engineering. "You're on your own."

An orbiter or blimp would try to identify anomalies on the ground using a set of purely mathematical, unbiased algorithms ... No longer would humans be the ones pushing the buttons."
Robotic Planetary Rovers