What do deep-sea operations, surgery, mining, drone piloting and even office management have to do with space exploration? What is the relationship of human spaceflight to human space exploration? What is the importance of “being there” for science and development in space? These questions were deliberated at the first Exploration Telerobotics Symposium, held May 2-3 at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. I was a co-organizer of the symposium, along with Azita Valinia, associate director of the Sciences and Exploration Directorate at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; Harley Thronson, senior scientist for advanced concepts in astrophysics at Goddard; and George Schmidt, deputy director of research and technology at NASA Glenn Research Center.
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Space is a big place, where length is measured by the distance traveled by light over a familiar time interval, such as a light-year. Large distances offer a particular challenge to space exploration; information travels through space at light speed, such that a two-way conversation, like an exchange of hellos, with someone a light-year away would take, literally, two years. This delay — or latency — is a huge handicap for exploration of faraway places.