Some NASA scientists have clearly been asking themselves "But what if taking people to the frikkin' moon isn't cool enough?" And we should be grateful for such ridiculous moments of self-doubt, because the result is something more awesome than we could have imagined: a mega-robot that astronauts can live in while stomping around the moon.
The ATHLETE (All-Terrain Hex-Legged Extra-Terrestrial Explorer) has a number of functions. For one, it proves that engineers will go to the most torturous verbal lengths to get a good acronym. For another, it solves one of the fundamental ironic problems of moon exploration: after spending millions of dollars and years of effort to cross the hundreds of thousands of kilometers to get there, you're stuck exploring the same few square miles around your base site.
The ATHLETE can wheel and walk its way around the lunar surface to anywhere the occupants feel like taking a gander at. A unique combination design means that while the roving robot can drive a lot of the way, anywhere wheels would get stuck it can simply get up and step across. The moon's reduced gravity means that this huge Wild Wild Westesque spider-bot isn't as unlikely as it seems, and solar power means the explorers don't risk running out of gas.
Prototypes will be tested in desert conditions later this year, and a lot of work is being put into the design of each component. AAA coverage doesn't extend out of the atmosphere, and if the astronauts have a breakdown they'll be truly stuck unless they can fix it themselves. Small scale models have already demonstrated the utility of the system in such critical situations as initially lowering the fifteen tonne moonbase from the landing platform to the surface.
Just in case you're not impressed enough yet, individual legs can be equipped with various tools to drill, excavate or examine the ground it walks across. NASA executives often worry about publicity, and how they can convince the next generation that space travel is worthy of awe and appreciation. The answer? This, and more like this, and make sure to tell us all about it. Human-carrying spider-bots crawling around the moon? Fiction has nothing on that.
Posted by Luke McKinney.
Related Galaxy posts:
Earth's Secrets to be Kept in a Lunar "Noah's Ark"
Lunar Human Outpost Slowly Evolving
Moon-Base Architects Plan 1st Step in Exploring the Cosmos –A Daily Galaxy Interview
Monitoring Climate Change -Expert Says We Need Lunar Observatories