Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Another small step for man, but a giant leap for Robots!"

>>>>>>>>>>Accessed from NY Times>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>NASA

"NASA’s Quest to Send a Robot to the Moon"
"For $150 billion, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration could have sent astronauts back to the Moon. The Obama administration judged that too expensive, and in September, Congress agreed to cancel the program.

For a fraction of that — less than $200 million, along with about $250 million for a rocket — NASA engineers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston say they can safely send a humanoid robot to the Moon. And they say they could accomplish that in a thousand days.

The idea, known as Project M, is almost a guerrilla effort within NASA, cooked up a year ago by Stephen J. Altemus, the chief engineer at Johnson. He tapped into discretionary money, pulled in engineers to work on it part time, and horse-traded with companies and other NASA units to undertake preliminary planning and tests. “We’re doing impossible things with really very little, if any, money whatsoever,” Mr. Altemus said.

A humanoid dextrous robot — at least the top half — already exists: Robonaut 2, developed by NASA and General Motors, is packed on the shuttle Discovery, scheduled for liftoff on Wednesday.

Bound for the International Space Station, it will be the first humanoid robot in space. It is to help with housekeeping chores at the space station as NASA learns how astronauts and robots can work together. Eventually, an upgraded Robonaut is to take part in spacewalks.

Project M also draws on other NASA projects that were already under way, including rocket engines that burn liquid oxygen and methane — a cheap and nontoxic fuel combination — and an automated landing system that could avoid rocks, cliffs and other hazards.

Integrating the technologies into working prototypes sped up development. “That’s the magic,” Mr. Altemus said. “A lot of times technologies end up in the lab cooking, and then there’s this valley of death where they never get to maturation or to flight.”

Project M’s planners say that a robot walking on the Moon would capture the imagination of students, just as the Apollo Moon landings inspired a generation of scientists and engineers 40 years ago..."
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