GPS for the Moon -Helping Humans Navigate the Lunar Surface

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July 23, 2008

GPS for the Moon -Helping Humans Navigate the Lunar Surface

080430spacelunarsathmed11ahmedium When the new iPhone was finally released this year, one of its top new features was the built-in GPS functionality. One of the criticisms was that it had taken so long for Apple to install such a device in the iPhone, so dependant are we upon the technology now.

For some of us, our sense of direction was never wonderful, often pointing west even though the sun was rising. Without GPS, travelling from a to b, and then on to c, d and e, takes on a level of difficulty expected from climbing up Mount Everest, not getting the shopping done and bills paid.

But our nearest neighbor in our small solar system, our moon, is totally devoid of any GPS system. So when NASA returns to the moon, hopefully by 2020, having some way to navigate from a to b – even if it isn’t to pay the bills – would be a big plus

NASA hopes to stay as well, when they return. They won’t just be the return trips that we used to make, but more of a settlement, akin to the ISS, but on rocky surface.

So the same Ohio State University researcher who is helping the Mars Rovers navigate across their tricky terrain, will now also be leading a campaign to help humans navigate across the surface of the moon. This task is falling to Ron Li, the Lowber B. Strange Designated Professor of civil and environmental engineering and geodetic science, and he has a plan.

Without the orbiting satellites to create an actual GPS system, Li will use a collection of lunar beacons, stereo cameras and orbital imaging sensors to create a GPS like mapping of the moon. NASA has awarded Li $1.2 million over the next three years to develop this system that will feel a lot like GPS, but work very differently.

"We will help with navigation, but also with astronauts' health as well," Li said. "We want them to avoid the stress of getting lost, or getting frustrated with the equipment. Lunar navigation isn't just a technology problem, it's also biomedical."

Li explained at a poster session Monday at the NLSI Lunar Science Conference, held at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, how his new system would work. Starting off with images taken from orbit, he will combine them with images from the surface to create lunar maps. Motion sensors on lunar vehicles and on the astronauts themselves will then allow computers to calculate their positions, and signals from the lunar lander, base stations and various lunar beacons will give the astronauts a picture of what is around them.

The researchers have named the entire system the Lunar Astronaut Spatial Orientation and Information System (LASOIS).

Posted by Josh Hill.


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