From The New York Times:
A future space mission to Titan, Saturn’s intriguing moon enveloped in clouds, might deploy a blimp to float around the thick atmosphere and survey the sand dunes and carved valleys below.
But the blimp’s ability to communicate would be limited. A message would take about an hour and a half to travel more than 800 million miles to Earth, and any response would take another hour and a half to get to Titan.
Three hours would be a long time to wait if the message were: “Help! I’m caught in a downdraft. What do I do?” Or if the blimp were to spot something unusual — an eruption of an ice volcano — it might have drifted away before it received the command to take a closer look. The eruption may also have ended by then.
Until recently, interplanetary robotic explorers have largely been marionettes of mission controllers back on Earth. The controllers sent instructions, and the spacecraft diligently executed them.
But as missions go farther and become more ambitious, long-distance puppetry becomes less and less practical. If dumb spacecraft will not work, the answer is to make them smarter. Artificial intelligence will increasingly give spacecraft the ability to think for themselves.