We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

Nasa's Space Mutant

Sep 1, 1999 5:00 AMNov 12, 2019 4:14 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Mutation and natural selection have worked well on Earth. NASA researchers are now trying to transfer some of nature's techniques into space by developing computer programs that evolve optimum codes for running a spacecraft and keep adapting as they go.

David Noever and Subbiah Baskaran at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center begin with a computer simulation of a proposed spacecraft. They then let loose a bunch of programs, each of which tries a different way to perform essential tasks, such as navigating to an asteroid using as little fuel as possible. The programs are rewarded or penalized depending on how well they work. Failures quickly go extinct; successes are combined and run through another generation.

Today's spacecraft are stuck with whatever software they had when they were launched. Evolutionary probes could adopt new programs, refine them, and beam the improved version back to Earth for the next mission. Noever also envisions a swarm of tiny, adaptive rovers that could learn from one another's mistakes and seek out the most interesting locations. "For every step you see in nature, you will see a step in the training of these spacecraft," Noever says. He hopes to test evolving software in a real spacecraft sometime in 2001.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.