NASA recently announced that an astronaut aboard the ISS has successfully controlled a rover down on Earth. It’s the ultimate in RC hobbying! Actually, it’s probably the start of some really amazing opportunities to explore worlds throughout our solar system.
We’re on our way to sending people to Mars, and really, if we so desired, other planets. The problem is that most of the planets in our solar system are too inhospitable for people to land on and explore with their own eyes and hands. The perfect solution is to land rovers on these planets and let them do the exploring for us.
Being able to remotely control rovers from orbit would be a huge breakthrough in planetary exploration, and would even increase the likelihood of sending manned missions to other planets. Whereas now there isn’t much point in just sending people on year-long missions just to orbit a planet, being able to drop down teams of rovers when the explorers get there, and then coordinate a large-scale survey of the surface, would be mean the mission would actually be fruitful.
While there can’t be anything like actually standing on another world and letting its soil fall through your fingers, we must accept that such a dream might be too far off, and in some cases, just not possible. But that is why robotics is so critical to our advancement as a species. What we can’t do with our biology, we can do with technology. Perhaps in the future robot explorers will traverse alien worlds on their own, transmitting their experiences back to us, but for now we’ll have to settle for some seriously advanced radio control toys… controlled from space!