Humans and Robots

Robots: Like Us!

Spacecraft are complex, technological objects that have to function far from Earth in the harsh environment of space. They collect science data and send it to Earth. But, as strange as they appear to be, it can help to understand them if we compare spacecraft to ourselves!

Activity RS1: Take a look at this Sojourner photograph and consider the spacecraft as a living organism. Given a human body part, can you identify the analogous spacecraft part? There are some clues in the list below.

sojourner pic

Activity RS2: Try this activity in the reverse direction. Take a spacecraft part and try and identify the relative anatomical part. Is a robot's electrical wiring more like blood vessels or nerves?

Activity RS3: Identify a mission and destination for a spacecraft and design the spacecraft. Be sure that the spacecraft has all the correct parts to fulfill critical functions. For example: it can not have solar panels if it is going to Neptune but it can have RTGs if it is going to Mercury; but including both takes up critical weight.

Keep in mind, landers and "rovers" are spacecraft too. Rovers require ways to move and navigate.

We human beings are built, and have to do certain things, to remain alive. The same is true for spacecraft.

Humans: Food/Water
Spacecraft: Solar Panels (sunlight), Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs) (heat from the decay of radioactive material; necessary in the weak lighting far from the Sun), or Batteries (stored energy) provide electricity

Humans: Body/Torso
Spacecraft: "Bus" (The housing that holds the spacecraft components and to which other devices are attached)

Humans: Brain
Spacecraft: Computer(s)

Humans: Nerves
Spacecraft : Electrical wiring

Humans: Skin
Spacecraft : Blankets (for temperature control [the spacecraft can not sweat but it can have radiators or louvers to get rid of excess heat] and meteorite protection)

Humans: Legs
Spacecraft : Rocket motors, fuel tanks (Since objects in motion tend to remain in motion, most spacecraft do not need to constantly burn fuel to move; their small rockets [thrusters] are used to change their orientation in space; a small amount of fuel lasts many years)

Humans: Blood Vessels
Spacecraft : Fuel lines

Humans: Arms
Spacecraft : Booms

Spacecraft also have sense organs to explore the places that they visit. They must communicate the data back to Earth and receive new instructions.

Humans: Eyes (sense organs)
Spacecraft: Camera(s), spectrometers, magnetometers, other science instruments

Humans: Neck
Spacecraft: Scan platform (which pivots around so that the instruments can point in the desired direction without reorienting the whole spacecraft)

Humans: Ears/Mouth
Spacecraft : Communications Antenna(e) (and receivers and transmitters)

Can you think of any other comparisons?

Adapted from JPL Educational Affairs Office Educators Guide to Robotic Spacecraft