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Sunday, January 08, 2012

NASA Needs to Give Policy Priority to Placing R2 Humanoid Robot on Surface of the Moon

For $150 billion, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration could have sent astronauts back to the Moon, and probably ahead of the Chinese. Nonetheless, the Obama administration judged that too expensive, and Congress agreed to cancel the program in 2010, as noted by The New York Times back then.  Nevertheless, there are alternatives, as required of leadership.

For less than $200 million, along with about $250 million for an Atlas-V booster rocket, NASA engineers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston say could safely send a humanoid robot to the Moon within 1000 days from date of funding approval. The United States could accomplish Project M, well before the Chinese taikonauts starting walking upon the Moon's surface.

The now NASA scaled-down idea, previously known as Project M, was almost a guerrilla effort within NASA, cooked up more than two-years ago by Stephen J. Altemus, the chief engineer at Johnson. The plan was to place the humanoid dextrous robot R2 on the surface of the Moon, perhaps at one of the poles to look at potential resources.

The time has come to take Project M off the back burner and place it front and center for mission planners to implement in late 2014 or early 2015, if for it to signal the Chinese government of American intent not to cede space exploration to them, or, in the alternate, the mission go forward  as an American technology demonstrator and science mission. Most of all, a NASA Project M will simply inspire a new generation of robotics and software engineers in American universities today and tomorrow. Why not all three as mutual policy goals?  

The Project M’s planners have said 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. As the Chinese, Europeans, Japanese, and Indians look to the Moon in this decade, so should the United States demonstrating the power of innovative robot technology and landing precision and to answer many remaining mysteries of the moon.

Bill Gilland, at CosmOnline provides greater insight to the future of lunar robots, and the amazing potential follow-on to R2, now powered-up at the International Space Station ready to commence full-functioning there in the year ahead.

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