VIDEO: Robo-Athlete for the Moon
The ATHLETE (All-Terrain Hex-Legged Extra-Terrestrial Explorer) robot could play an essential role in new lunar bases.
According to NASA, the 15 ton lunar habitat would be mounted on top of the six-legged robot. The habitat could walk right off of the lunar lander, and then proceed to any desired location. Wheeled locomotion would be used for level ground; more challenging terrain could be negotiated with the full use of the flexible legs.
The ATHLETE-based habitat could then be controlled directly by astronauts; mission control could also direct the habitat from Earth. My favorite alternative, an autonomous robot habitat, is also slated for testing. It would use software developed for the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
The robot habitat would move around using power drawn from solar arrays; the maximum speed is about 10 km/hour. Although this seems slow, remember that the Moon's circumference is just 11,000 kilometers (compared to Earth's circumference of 40,000 km). Astronauts would live a nomadic existence, covering much more of the lunar surface.
NASA engineers are testing two prototypes of the robotic lunar base in Pasadena, CA.
Abandoning the idea of a fixed lunar base would be a huge shift for NASA (and maybe the rest of us). Instead, astronauts would lead a nomadic existence; this would let them cover vastly more ground in exploration.
Even better, the robot habitat could even help out; take a look at this video of the ATHLETE robot attaching tools to its flexible legs Transformer-style.
The ATHLETE-based lunar habitat reminds me of two science-fictional devices. Jack Vance wrote this about a walking fort in his 1964 novel The Killing Machine:
He wanted Patch to design and construct a walking fort in
the semblance of a monster centipede, seventy-six feet long and twelve feet
high. The mechanism was to consist of eighteen segments, each equiped with a
pair of legs...
(Read more about the walking fort)
Once NASA settles down and starts working on future designs, perhaps a walking lunar base might resemble this "crab fort" drawn by Daniel Dociu (see picture).
In terms of movement, it reminded me of the slow-but-steady steel tortoise, from Robert Heinlein's 1940 novella Coventry; this vehicle was also solar powered, and crawled along at a top speed of just six miles per hour.
(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission of Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction)
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