Our exploration of the cosmos has always gone hand-in-hand with new advancements in human understanding, science and technology – from Galileo standing firm as his claims of a heliocentric solar system were decried as heresy, to Yuri Gagarin becoming the first human to reach outer space in his rudimentary Vostok 1 capsule. With AI set to be humanity’s next major leap forward, it would make sense that it will also be used to transform our understanding of the world beyond the limits of this planet. Here, we explore some of the ways in which AI is being used to expand the study of space.
Understanding the Surface of Mars
As the next nearest body to the earth after the moon, it makes sense that Mars has been firmly in the sights of space exploration for a long time now. Although the current status of NASA’s long gestating mission to Mars is extremely uncertain, Mars remains a target of space exploration for organisations and nations across the globe. If any major space project does finally get underway in the not-too-distant future, it seems likely that it will involve Mars – and AI is already playing a part.
New software on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is allowing the craft to gather more data and carry out further exploration even while its human controllers are out of contact. The AEGIS software (Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science) allows a list of commands to be uploaded to Curiosity, which it will proceed to carry out in the downtime between completing its journeys and receiving new instructions from earth – a gap that can often last for hours at a time. Prior to the new software, Curiosity filled this downtime by carrying out random tests that rarely returned useful results.
AEGIS provides Curiosity with more specific parameters for its tests, making its results more relevant and accurate. With these results, NASA is learning more about Mars every day, and this knowledge could prove vital to a future manned mission to the surface of the red planet.
Exploring Europa’s Oceans
As well as aiding long-standing designs to reach Mars, AI is also being used to paint a more detailed picture of some of the strangest, most unreachable depths of our solar system. In particular, NASA hopes to use AI technology to create autonomous, submersible drones capable of exploring the subsurface oceans of icy moons such as Jupiter’s Europa.
Limitations in technology currently mean that it is difficult to know anything about Europa’s subsurface oceans beyond their most basic existence. Europa’s thick, icy crust is an extremely difficult barrier to penetrate, but reaching the moon’s hidden oceans could unlock vast reserves of further knowledge about the universe. In particular, scientists posit that large, liquid oceans on Europa, or potentially on Saturn’s equally icy moons Ganymede and Dionne, would provide the ideal conditions to harbour extra-terrestrial life.
With AI becoming more advanced and complex with each passing day, what was once the preserve of science fiction now looks set to become reality. For our founder Tej Kohli news of AI’s use in projects with the potential to benefit society is always welcomed, and the new applications of AI in space exploration have the potential to vastly expand our understanding of the universe around us.