How To Land On Mars Without a Pilot

How To Land On Mars Without a Pilot


In the year 1919, pilots Alcock and Brown
completed the first non-stop transatlantic flight from Canada to Ireland. The journey took them just 16 hours, but it
was anything but plain sailing. During takeoff, the overloaded aircraft barely
made it over a line of trees. And shortly after, the onboard generator failed,
causing them to lose radio contact and their heating system. The pilots faced even more trouble when they were suddenly surrounded by a thick layer of fog. Since they were using the stars to navigate,
they became completely lost. And the lack of visibility caused Alcock to
lose control of the aircraft, narrowly missing the sea. One snow storm later and a minor crash landing in Ireland, the pilots made it across the Atlantic. This major accomplishment ultimately led to
the beginning of passenger air travel. But Alcock and Brown’s incredibly rough
journey showed just how essential the role of the pilot was. 40 years later and with spaceflight just around
the corner, NASA set up the X-15 program to determine how humans and aircraft would cope
with flights into space. The X-15 was a rocket-powered aircraft, capable of reaching altitudes above 100km and speeds of 7,000km/h One of the main goals of the program was to
explore the limitations of humans in spaceflight—find out what humans are better at and what computers
are better at. After 9 years and 199 flights, NASA found
that while a human could fly a rocket into space, the automated system could perform
the same task with much more accuracy. Once NASA switched their attention to rockets,
it was clear that the role of the human would not be to fly the rocket, but to monitor what
it was doing. While an airplane can be flown with just a
couple of pilots, a rocket takes a whole team of people back at mission control, to constantly
monitor each part of the rocket. To this day, rocket launches are completely
automated. Take the Falcon Heavy for example. 60 seconds before launch, the rockets onboard
computers take control of the flight. And from then on, the rocket does this, all
by itself! If a rocket can do this, then why can’t
an airliner fly without a pilot? Although modern airliners have very capable
autopilot systems, their main job is to reduce the workload for the pilot and not to fly
the plane. However, this doesn’t mean it’s impossible
for an aircraft to fly itself. Back in 1947, the US Air Force performed an
experimental flight from Canada to England using a C-54 Skymaster. With a seven-man crew onboard, the pilot taxied
onto the runway, let go of the controls and pushed a button to engage the autopilot. The plane took off by itself, automatically
adjusting its flaps and throttles and, once airborne, retracting its landing gear. It then flew itself across the Atlantic, following
a series of sequences that had been programmed into its “mechanical brain”. At dawn the following day, the C-54 reach
the English coast and executed a perfect landing. This was a sample from an audiobook called “The Glass Cage” by Nicholas Carr. It’s an audiobook that looks at the future of automation. Exploring things like robots, self-driving cars, and digitized medicine. This book along with many others, is available as an audiobook on Audible, so you can listen to it on the go, no matter where you are. On top of that, you can get your first audiobook, a 30 day trial and two Audible originals all for free by visiting Audible.com/PrimalSpace or texting Primal Space to 500 500. With today’s technology, an aircraft capable
of taking off and landing all by itself is definitely possible. But getting a fully automated aircraft to
deal with every unexpected scenario whilst still being as safe as a pilot is way more
difficult. Not to mention that our airline infrastructure
is so developed, that in order to replace the pilot completely, each airplane would
need to be able to taxi between the gate and the runway. All whilst communicating with every other
plane at the airport. To put it simply, if Boeing came out tomorrow
with their new pilotless airliner, the FAA would lose their minds. Since the beginning of spaceflight, rockets have always operated under their own guidance systems. When dealing with such high speeds and altitudes,
computers are able to guide the rocket into orbit with much more precision than a human
ever could. The advantage that automated systems provide
is even more clear when we look at the landing of the Falcon 9. Since the rocket has a thrust to weight ratio
higher than 1 during a landing, it has to perform a “suicide burn” which involves
firing the engines at the last possible second. Turn on the engines too soon and the rocket
will slow down before reaching the ground. Turn on the engines too late and the rocket
won’t be able to slow down in time. As the rocket comes in, its onboard computers
are constantly measuring its altitude and its speed, to work out when to light the engines. Getting the timing absolutely perfect is like
trying to pause this video when the number reaches zero. You can’t. Although the Falcon 9 is able to land with
incredible accuracy, it relies largely on GPS to precisely guide it to a predetermined
landing spot. This is something that won’t be possible
for future missions to Mars, since there is no current GPS system around the planet to
provide pinpoint accuracy. In 2022, SpaceX plans to send a cargo mission
to Mars using their new Starship rocket. In the future, it’s possible that SpaceX
could build landing pads on the Martian surface and operate a constellation of satellites
to give Mars its own GPS. But for the first couple of missions, Starship
will need to analyze the terrain in real time and choose a suitable landing spot all by
itself. This is one of the few situations where human
input is more valuable than a computer. During the landing of Apollo 11, the onboard
computers were taking the Lunar Module towards a field of boulders. Since the computers were unaware of the possible
danger, Neil Armstrong had to take control of the Lunar Module and direct it towards
a clear patch of ground. For Starship landing on Mars, it could have
its own artificial vision, with multiple onboard cameras trained to avoid rough terrain and
land the spacecraft on flat ground. Another solution that many have suggested
is to land a series of small transponders near the landing site to create a localised
GPS. At least three of these would be able to communicate
with Starship and accurately plot its position, guiding it towards the landing site. Either way, the first Starship landing on
Mars will be an incredibly tense but exciting event!

100 thoughts on “How To Land On Mars Without a Pilot

  1. I tried pausing the video
    1st try -0.56sec
    2nd try -0.16sec
    you have crashed the rocket and failed the mission.

    Restart main menu
    Edit: 3rd try did it.

  2. As an Airline pilot I can point two good reasons why it'd be hard to guide a rocket:
    1- Humans need references to guide a vehicle, since at space or earth orbit references are distant and hard to track(Eye-ball) actually piloting is really hard. Take docking now, references are close and rotation/acceleration/speed is easier to "feel".
    2- Since there are lots lots and lots of calculations going on. We get the role of Go-Nogo decisions. If we were to focus on navigation and booster/thrusters only we would miss the big picture. Take Apollo 12 for example, it was troubleshooting right from the start.

    And yes, we would waste tons of fuel to manually guide the rocket.

  3. Considering what falcon 9 did was nothing new (contrary to all the hype) and has been done repeatedly in the 60's, i have no doubt that they will be able to land a cargo craft automatically on mars.

  4. 5:00 incorrect. Rocket engines are capable of throttling there thrust. The real reason firing too soon is bad is you run out of fuel before you land, thus causing you to crash

  5. I thought you just skipped the frame displaying 0:00 so its actually impossible. Finding a dancing elon surprised me even more than finding out you can actually pause it.

  6. Ya we suck so bad we've been to the moon and launched 100's of space shuttle missions, sure things go bad but that doesnt mean we suck idiot!

  7. It took me multiple tries to get to 0:00 when I slowed the video down to .25x speed. And there is a blurred dancing Elon. I really enjoyed the video though. And I agree, nobody can reliably get the timer down to zero in real time

  8. I actually paused it on 0.00 on the "it's like pausing this video when this hits zero" bit, after about 15 times. I'm not bragging, believe me or not but please take my word for it that I did it. But yes it's hard.

  9. What do you mean by I can’t pause it on zero I just did I have a screenshot to and what with the dancing person

  10. “…to pause this video when the number reaches zero. You can’t.”
    pauses video at 0
    I’m a computer now

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *