‘Second Life’ to keep Mars crews company

From Wired:

When NASA begins launching astronaut teams on 800-day missions to Mars, one of the greatest survival tests these explorers will face is the inevitable alienation they’ll experience with their remoteness from Earth and the harshness of the frozen Red Planet.

After rocketing halfway around the solar system for 180 nights, these astronauts will start the first of 500 days on the Martian surface observing a cocoa-colored dusk fade into a star-saturated nightfall. Earth, 400 million kilometers away, will appear as just a twinkling blue diamond in the skies. The astronauts will have never felt so alone.

But NASA thinks it has an answer to the psychological challenge of interplanetary isolation. While aerospace engineers are designing the Ares rockets to be deployed in the Mars missions, a more starry-eyed contingent at NASA is testing networking and virtual reality technologies that they think will connect the first wave of Mars pioneers with their families, friends and colleagues back on Earth, in a 3-D virtual world cut from the mold of Second Life or World of Warcraft.

“We want to help our remote explorers ‘phone home’ in a way that lets them sit around a dinner table with their family, help their children with homework and analyze the latest findings with their Earth-bound peers,” says Jeanne Holm, chief knowledge architect at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The initiative is the latest in the space agency’s enthusiastic push into virtual worlds. In May, NASA set up its own island in Second Life to enable online collaboration on technology projects, and the agency is working to create 3-D simulations of the orange-red deserts of Mars, so astronauts can experience the Red Planet before going there.

“Virtual worlds will play a key role in returning to the Moon and exploring Mars, says Jessy Cowan-Sharp, who helped create NASA’s CoLab island in Second Life.

But an interplanetary virtual world faces the seemingly intractable limits imposed by the speed of light. When on diametrically opposite sides of the sun, Mars and Earth are separated by 20 light-minutes; when closest, the planets are still four light-minutes apart. That’s a long ping time, and jacking into a virtual world over a radio link of that distance would be like diving into a vat of very thick molasses.

I’m wondering about that pesky light-speed time delay myself. The explanations NASA gives doesn’t make much sense to me. I can understand the email message concept, sending packets of images that consolidate into the Second Life environment so the sender avatar can give long, loving and maybe pornographic images, but nothing that can approximate real time. The Photon Cops are the Photon Cops after all, they enforce Einstein’s Law(s).

And if the VR is as good as NASA claims it might be, would the astronauts want to leave it? And what would be the purpose of sending people anyways? As one commenter put it, “…with geometric increases in computer processing and virtual reality capacity, humans should be able to explore Mars and other environments pretty successfully without going there…”

That’s a good argument. But as Stephen Hawking commented recently after taking a “zero-g” flight on a 727 concerning human space travel, “…if not for any other reason, than for possibility of life extinction on earth…”.

Migrations are part of the Human Story also.

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7 responses

  1. Ha! Just hire truck drivers to make the trip… they’re used to being alone and having no life! FINALLY, Marine… something I can help you with! 😆 And certainly, no one would miss them (me)!

    Yeah, the ancient explorers were gone from their families for years at a time… nothing new, here.

    As for going to Mars in the first place… well…

    Ah, forget it.

    😉

  2. Just hire truck drivers to make the trip… they’re used to being alone and having no life!

    Y’know, that actually sounds logical. My buddy Quasar9 always said that future interplanetary astronauts would be like submarine crews; all couped up together for months at a time.

    I still can’t believe NASA would send people for years-long voyages to Mars using 1930s rocket technology and in the same breath talk of sending advanced VR tech along just to distract them so they won’t kill each other.

    It makes no sense at all. Why bother to go if the goal is to do science, not colonize? Like one reader said, send small probes that send back composite images, store them in a VR buffer like Second Life and enter the VR mode without leaving the planet? That eliminates the light speed delay and cheaper to finance.

    If colonization is the goal, use nuclear, or better rocket technology and cut down the transit time. Don’t half-ass the thing just to feed the public scraps to appease them to shut up.

  3. Hi dad2059…

    I don’t know if I’d want to board a mission to Mars knowing that NASA used the lowest bidder and they were offshore in “Red China” , India, Malaysia or elsewhere…?! :))

    You’ve heard me rag about Clinton selling our radiation hardened guidance chips to China. Well, old Billy was a bit smarter than blatatntly doing so. Believe it or not, many of our “rocket launched satellites” had been “outsourced’ to China during his presidency with Bernard Schwartz, CEO of Loral Space Division helping him pull off his “chips for cash” (campaign contributions) scam. As I’ve mentioned in other posts this seemingly forgotten high treason gave the “Red Chinese”, then and still an awowed enemy, a 20 year leap in nuclear delivery technology and also the techiques to manufacture hardened EMP resistant guidance boards through reverse engineering.

    True my thesis is a bit off topic, but I’m trying to emphasize that a modern day mission to Mars with a projected development cost 2 trillion dollars not including overruns and outright graft will no doubt turn out to be another “frozen O-ring” debacle… 😐

    8 months out on mission to Mars…

    “H.A.L. what is our eta to achieve orbit about Mars?” Hi, Commander Nemo…did you say Mars, sir…? “Yes I did H.A.L. …!” Sir, I’m sorry to say, but I cannot find any reference to such a planet in my d-base. You must be mistaken Commander…! … Nemo and crew : o

    Carl Nemo **==

  4. I don’t think NASA is seriously going to send people on multi-year missions to Mars, the public wouldn’t be interested. Plus we couldn’t pay for it on our own. By their timetable, we should be the North American Union by then, so the whole agency along with others will be totally rebuilt, or eliminated.

    We should be suspicious anyway because of two incongruous things, using 1930s rocket tech with near-Matrix quality VR software in order to halt travel boredom. WTF! Whatta crock!

    We can built almost realistic quality software, but we can’t build a ship to Mars that doesn’t take months or years to make the trip?

    Somebody’s lying about something! 😡

  5. Hi dad2059…

    Better yet Dreamworks could just create a great Mars Mission VR production sell it to the masses and we the people of earth can “pretend” we went to Mars… :))

    Nemo **==

  6. Carl: That’ll probably happen before Americans step onto Mars.

    That’s also a possible reason for the Fermi Paradox according to George Dvorsky: http://sentientdevelopments.blogspot.com/2007/08/fermi-paradox-self-destruction-or-non.html

    Societies for what ever reasons might turn inward and create their own worlds or universes.

    I don’t think that’s healthy, but the signs are pointing that way.

  7. Hi dad2059…

    Thanks for the thought-provoking link. One thing for sure we have alot of serious issues to address on this planet before we are truly fit to colonize any other world.

    The greatest issue facing mankind at this moment is out of control world population growth. The following is a sobering link especially once expanded. Go to the expanded clock.

    http://www.netlingo.com/more/poptick.html

    To me the second greatest threat is the unregulated, free-market driven use of advanced, possibly planetary threatening technologies such as GMO’s, nanotechnology and others of which we are unaware at this time. You’ve had some recent articles on your site concerning both of these technologies.

    Obviously another great threat and the most long-standing in the modern era is for the nuclear war countdown clock to finally strike midnight setting mankind backward for millennia if not forever.

    I’m laying my money on nuclear war which will start as a theater based confrontation as in Iran and escalate to a strategic exchange between the superpowers. The catalyst for this conflict will be simply about the militaristic acquisition of oil reserves to feed the ever energy-hungry West. Russia and China will not standdown allowing us to do so. They might finally decide to act as the Orkin Man; ie., exterminators and get rid of a nation; ie., the U.S , a nation that’s become a planetary “pest”… : |

    I’m going to repost your link from above hoping that it will post as a single string making it easer for readers to simply click and go.

    http://sentientdevelopments.blogspot.com/2007/08/fermi-paradox-self-destruction-or-non.html

    Carl Nemo **==

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