Space Robots have long been accompanying humans during space missions. They assist astronauts, complete manual tasks, and are cheaper to send off into space when compared to humans. And now, researchers are working towards building robots for NASA which would help them explore pits on the moon to help provide shelter for astronauts.
Lunar pits usually range from about 5 meters to more than 900 meters diameter in size. Also, they’re quite different from craters, which are created when asteroids or meteorites strike the moons. Pits are usually created when the entire surface collapses into what looks like a “hollow underground void”. According to William “Red” Whittaker, Professor, Robotic Institute, CMU, these pits could be used as caverns by future astronauts for shelter. It might also provide access to different resources including minerals, ice, etc.
As a part of the robot development process, NASA has approved $2 million research grant for Carnegie Mellon University, which would help the there to work on technologies necessary for robotic exploration. Funding has been granted by NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, that often funds ideas that are “visionary” or “high risk”. The funding is a “Phase III funding” and it’s apparently the first one ever to be awarded by NIAC. However, this is not it, and more funding would be necessary in the future to completely finish off the final design. However, that robotic mission is set off to deploy in 2023.
For exploration, Whittaker plans on using several “ smart speedy” robots for his mission “Skylight” where these robots would have to finish off their observation within a week by travelling miles and gathering over thousands of images. Otherwise, they risk chances of getting disabled by the extreme cold lunar weather. Also, these robots would be equipped with a capability called “exploration autonomy” using which robots would be making their own judgement about places that they need to go for gathering information.
Furthermore, NASA has plans of returning its astronauts to the moon within a span of five years. It is planned to be a two-phase approach where it will land astronauts on the moon by 2024 and establish human base on the moon by 2028.