The Exciting Future of Space Exploration: How Tech Will Make it Better

The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, where most actual fighting will be done by small robots.

As you go forth today remember your duty is clear: to build and maintain those robots.

– The Commandant
The Secret War of Lisa Simpson (1997)

This post is an intro to what I believe the future holds for humanity, from technological perspective.

A professor of mine asserted that labor is the foundation of the economy. As someone who studied environmental science, I would argue that the basis of the economy is natural resources. Our societies were built upon places rich in resources, whether those were fresh water springs, fishing ports, virgin forests, or landscapes saturated with crude oil.

Most of our modern resources are finite and are being consumed at an unsustainable rate. Although many peaks are uncertain (‘peak oil’ or ‘peak phosphate’ come to mind), there is no question that these key resources will eventually become too expensive to extract. This is certainly part of what is driving the renewed interest in space exploration. We can enrich ourselves with resources from beyond Earth – metals, rare elements, new compounds for building materials, maybe even biological forms, all waiting to be discovered.

The job of locating retrieving, and importing these materials from beyond our atmosphere is dangerous and expensive. Yet it is quickly becoming feasible thanks to rapid developments in technology.

Space Travel

Thanks to the longstanding work of nation space agencies like NASA and the new commercial sectors like SpaceX, the cost of sending equipment into space is rapidly declining. This is opening the way for asteroid landings, bases (Moon / Mars), and increased experimentation.

Robotics

The minuscule cost of controllers, sensors, actuators, and other electronics (plus a little funding from the US Department of Defense) has led to some incredible advances in robotics. Simply look at the popular dance videos from Boston Dynamics to get a sense of what’s now possible in this field.

Artificial Intelligence

We’ve seen incredible advances in AI in practical applications across the board. Kevin Kelly, the prescient Chief Maverick of Wired Magazine made the prediction that AI will be used as a utility, much like electricity, internet, or water. Now, AI is here for cars, graphic design, videogames, language, and so much else, and it grows more impressive every day.

Augmented Reality

Although Meta stands out in the field of XR, there is competition on the horizon. Apple is expected to enter the market within the year. In any case, we know that VR and AR have incredible potential in their applications, and that we’re only at the tip of the iceberg.

Cutting-Edge Physics

In the coming decades, quantum entanglement will allow for secure telecommunication faster than the speed of light. Other innovations will also scale up over time, like nano-scale materials manufacturing and further innovations in computing.

A Confluence of Technologies

My vision is that these technologies will converge to expand humanity’s influence in the outer reaches of our solar system and beyond.

I believe we will use robots, rather than humans, as our primary means of space exploration. Robots can use AI to navigate and perform actions (i.e., mining) autonomously or with very little input from a human. Input and feedback would be managed by XR applications, by seeing through the eyes of the robot. Though communication is currently limited by the speed of light, quantum entanglement may solve the time delay. The most critical piece – the price of sending these bots to their destination and back – is addressed by the falling cost of rocket launches and potential off-earth launch bases.

It’s a fun vision, which is why I’m sharing it here, and maybe my imagination is limited to what I read on Twitter (R.I.P.), but over the past few years, learning where the broad arrow of innovation is pointing, I see it has aimed for the stars.

For myself as a technologist, I see my future role in software building interactive applications that close the gap between humans and hardware. I want to build the interface that brings us into space. There certainly will be no limit to such applications on Earth, but I find the celestial theater to be much more interesting (if only because I adore sci-fi). I can easily picture a future where remote-controlled exploratory drones on Pluto are controlled by people on Earth with their AR goggles, just like a real-time-strategy game.

Before a human ever sets foot on Mars, we’ll have the red planet’s surface swarming with hundreds or thousands of robots. This kind of exploration will be more cost-effective, safer, and more practical. The rapidly improving fields of AI, XR, robotics, and space travel point to the opportunity for new and abundant natural resources. Like our ancestors built cities along great ocean harbors, we will undoubtedly colonize our celestial neighbors in the pursuit of resources.