NASA will use ChatGPT-like AI to allow its lunar Gateway station to 'talk'

'It's really not like science fiction anymore.'
Chris Young
An artist's impression of the lunar Gateway.
An artist's impression of the lunar Gateway.

NASA Johnson 

As anyone who's seen depictions of AI in movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien will know, you simply don't put your life control system in the hands of a sentient computer.

Now, though, NASA is seemingly going against everything Hollywood has taught us about AI space assistants by developing a system that will allow astronauts to use a natural-language ChatGPT-like interface in space, a report from The Guardian reveals.

NASA aims to use the new system on its lunar Gateway space station, which is designed to help establish a permanent presence on the Moon and eventually send humans to Mars.

NASA's lunar Gateway station to feature 'talking' ChatGPT-like AI

NASA's lunar Gateway space station will play a pivotal role in human space exploration of the Moon and beyond.

The space agency has described the lunar station as a crucial stepping stone for crewed missions to Mars, as it will help scientists better understand the effects of long-term cosmic radiation exposure on the human body.

And now, a ChatGPT-like AI system could help astronauts aboard the orbital Moon station. Essentially, it would help them navigate the complex systems at their disposal without diving into a manual, as well as allow them to better keep track of key mission parameters.

"The idea is to get to a point where we have conversational interactions with space vehicles and they [are] also talking back to us on alerts, interesting findings they see in the solar system and beyond," Dr. Larissa Suzuki, a visiting researcher at NASA, said while speaking at an IEEE meeting in London on next-gen space communication. "It's really not like science fiction anymore." 

NASA will use ChatGPT-like AI to allow its lunar Gateway station to 'talk'
An artist's depiction of Orion approaching Gateway.

NASA could also use the ChatGPT-like system to provide support for NASA's upcoming Artemis missions, which will take humans to the lunar surface for the first time since Apollo 17 in 1972.

The system could also help to detect issues with spacecraft stationed at the lunar Gateway station. It would alert "mission operators that there is a likelihood that package transmissions from space vehicle X will be lost or will fail delivery," Dr. Suzuki explained. "We cannot send an engineer up in space whenever a space vehicle goes offline or its software breaks somehow."

The future of space exploration?

NASA isn't simply reacting to hot trends. On a web page soliciting private sector support for its lunar Gateway project last year, the space agency highlighted the role AI and machine learning will play on its orbital station.

Now that ChatGPT has taken the world by storm, though, it's easier to picture how these systems will be implemented aboard a space station.

In 2023, the prospect of an AI assistant aboard a space station does, indeed, feel less like science fiction, though comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey's rogue AI HAL are inevitable. Here's hoping NASA installs a sentient computer "reset" button aboard the lunar Gateway station – because you can never be too careful.

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