Human Exploration Using Real-Time Robotic Operations (HERRO)
July 2, 2012
On July 2, 2012, we were lucky enough to have Dr. George Schmidt come in and talk to us about the HERRO Mission to Mars. He got his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University, his M.S. degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the University of Washington, and his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He’s a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, has authored over 70 publications (including 15 refereed publications), and served as Manager of the Propulsion Research Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. He’s also spent two years at NASA Headquarters, serving as the Program Executive for Nuclear Power Systems. Currently he is the Deputy Director of the Research and Technology Directorate at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. Dr. Schmdit is now serving as the Acting Director of the Research and Technology Directorate.
Dr. Schmidt’s presentation discussed the possibility of exploring Mars using tele-presence robots operated from Orbit. This close range center of operations allows the operators to be within the “Cognitive Horizon” which facilitates real time operations. While the primary target site for this technology is Mars, Dr. Schmidt also described missions to Luna and Near Earth Objects. These missions consist of several stages with unmanned missions being launched prior to the crew departure. The unmanned missions would land at the prescribed landing sites and establish base camps for the robots. Manned crews would then be launched and eventually arrive in the orbit of the planet that is being explored. The crew capsule would orbit at Lagrangian points, areas where it does not take significant amounts of fuel to maintain orbit. This allows the crew to efficiently continue operations.
The robotic missions are advantageous with regards to planetary science. Current design reference missions to Mars place six crew members on the surface three times, exploring three different sites with around a one hundred mile radius. The robotic missions would send one crew capsule and still explore three sites with a one hundred mile radius. The proposed missions would reduce the number of required launches which, in turn, decreases the number of launches. The robots would have on board laboratories similar to the current rovers while still maintaining some of the dexterity and cognitive skills that are provided by a human. That being said, these robotic missions do not provide the emotional response that landing a man on Mars would. While there is no longer a space race, it would likely be easier to create a political climate where sending people to Mars is acceptable than it would be for engaging in robotic missions. However, robotic missions make an excellent stepping stone toward human exploration of the red planet.