March 1, 2008 Engineers and robiticists created a robot to explore the moon. Running on the same amount of power as a 100-watt light bulb the rover uses heat from radiation to support its sensors, movement, and drill. It can move about five inches a second and work in harsh conditions to analyze the chemical composition of material below the moon’s surface.harsh conditions to analyze the chemical composition of material below the moon’s surface.
Imagine an environment where temperatures fall well below negative 200 degrees. There's powdery ground, deep craters and large boulders -- and the journey is made in perpetual darkness. Now, roboticists are developing a prototype rover for NASA that could withstand the moon's brutal conditions -- and still provide it's human counterparts with lifesaving resources.
One part drill -- and all 500 pounds of it designed to operate under some very difficult conditions. Roboticists at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa. have developed this prototype lunar rover to search for life-sustaining compounds just under the moon's surface.
"Finding water-ice on the moon is important because it would provide a resource for water to drink … but you can also break up the H2O into hydrogen to use as fuel, and oxygen to breathe," says David Wettergreen, a roboticist at Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute.
"Scarab" is designed to drill about one meter into the lunar ground, and collect a core sample. It is also designed to lift up and avoid obstacles, like small boulders, on the moon's surface. The rover is equipped with sensors that direct it to shift positions as it drives on uneven surfaces to prevent a rollover.
On the moon, battery power and solar energy won't work … so the rover will run off radioisotopes, which present another challenge. "We have a source that generates about 100 watts, so about as much as a light bulb," says Wettergreen. "Imagine trying to run a robot that moves around and drills on as much power as a light bulb."
As a result, scarab moves very slowly -- about five inches a second. But the payload some day could make it 'the little moon rover that could.' Carnegie Mellon researchers say scarab itself will never travel to the moon -- it is just a prototype. But the next generation of moon rover may make a lunar trip.
ROBOT ROVERS: It is expensive to send people into space. Designing and delivering a robot doesn't require heavy and complicated life support systems. Robots also don't have to worry about a return trip back to Earth. Scientists are building robots designed to mimic the movements of snakes. Snakes don't have rigid skeletons, so they can contort their bodies to get into tiny holes and slither over uneven terrain. So-called "snakebots" would be able to dig into loose soil to explore where other robots couldn't reach, and slither into cracks in the surface.
ABOUT THE MOON: The moon is Earth's only natural satellite, a cold, dry orb whose surface is studded with craters and strewn with rocks and dust. The moon's gravitational force is only 17% of the Earth's gravity. For example, a 100 pound (45 kg) person would weigh only 17 pounds (7.6 kg) on the Moon. The temperature on the Moon ranges from daytime highs of about 265F (130C) to nighttime lows of about -170F (-110C). The moon has no atmosphere. On the moon, the sky is always appears dark, even on the bright side because there is no atmosphere to scatter light. Also, since sound waves travel through air, the moon is silent; there can be no sound transmission on the moon. The phases of the moon are caused by the relative positions of the earth, sun, and moon. The moon goes around the earth, on average, in 27 days, 7 hours, and 43 minutes.
The sun always illuminates the half of the moon facing the sun (except during lunar eclipses, when the moon passes through the earth's shadow). When the sun and moon are on opposite sides of the earth, the moon appears "full" to us, a bright, round disk. When the moon is between the earth and the sun, it appears dark, a "new" moon. In between, the moon's illuminated surface appears to grow (wax) to full, then decreases (wanes) to the next new moon.
The American Geophysical Union, the American Astronomical Society, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., contributed to the information contained in the video portion of this report.