Computers Likely to Pilot NASA's Future

No More Astronauts?

Future space vehicles may soon be on auto-pilot full-time. A new generation of launch craft planned by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration could very well be controlled largely by computers.

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that "the reusable space vehicles, part of the X-33 program under development at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale [California], probably will not even have a cockpit, a window, or a control stick..." The X-33 program consists of an unmanned prototype, which will be sent out into space in order to demonstrate technology for a later, full-scale vehicle.

Many astronauts, wary of this current development, contend that a computer pilot would not effectively fly a passenger-carrying ship as well as a human one. "It is far easier for a problem to fool a computer than a crew," veteran astronaut Robert "Hoot" Gibson told the Times.

Even though executives at NASA consider the man-versus-computer question still open for discussion, they admit that the the cockpit and pilot design of the current space shuttle will not be implemented in the X-33 program. Wishing to avoid any further rising tensions over the matter, NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin has directed officials at Lockheed Martin, the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, and the Johnson Space Center in Houston to conduct a study on the issue.

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