In the iconic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, astronaut Dave Bowman must deal with HAL 9000, a sentient artificial intelligence computer that operates his spaceship. The computer is all-knowing and all-controlling, saying at one point, “Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.” It portends a dark future for automated AI and space travel.
No one wants that outcome for real-world spacecraft and computers, but Hewlett-Packard Enterprise is starting to think about how to automate many spacecraft systems and outsource critical decisions to an on-board computer. Presently, with the International Space Station, flight controllers on Earth monitor the spacecraft’s overall health continually, and flight directors relay information to astronauts on board when problems occur.