Will NASA Send Robots to the Moon with “Project M?”

Article written: 5 Feb , 2010
Updated: 5 Feb , 2010
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This video surfaced today on NASA Watch, but there’s not a lot of details about Project M. According to the America Space website, Project M is a program being developed out of the Johnson Space Center Engineering Directorate to put a lander on the moon with a robot. Supposedly, the mission could be done within a 1,000 days once the project got the go-ahead.

It would be different than other NASA projects in that there would be no prime contractors, but just using “the best engineers in the world to get the job done on time,” said America Space.

Cryptically, the website also says the project has been “go” since Monday, November 9th, 2009.

We’ll post more as it becomes available.



22 Responses

  1. Member
    Aqua says

    oTay NOW Brinkster’s! I LIKE the size of that lander! AND would love to get my hands on the computers and software used to create such a sophisticated *.ani = NICE!

    Short story dream sequence: I drive down to the big hanger at Moffitt Field which has been converted into a virtual reality reproduction of a volcanic tube on the Moon where my Avatar awaits. I go into the change out room and put on my sensor suit… turn on the scanners and walk over to my tools.

    Trick my ride Clyde, and lets roll this rock!

  2. Nephish777 says

    Is NASA trying to tell us that instead of people they are planing on using robots? Two article in today’s Universe Today about robotic exploration. Just a coincidence?

  3. Olaf says

    Robotic missions yes, but it still lacks the hero part that inspires people to start a science and engineering careerer.

    And something tells me that any robotic missions to the Moon are dead since there is no reason to send probes to the Moon if no humans go to it.

    Currently we know and have more detailed images of Saturn’s moons that our own moon.

    I know politics too well, big hollow words, big promises but 10 years from now you see that none of the promises got through.

    LRO is probably the last mission to the Moon by the USA for the next 20 years exactly the same way they stopped the moon landings 40 years ago.

  4. Olaf says

    @Nephish777,
    sounds like big promises so we won’t protest. Hollow wording. First I want to see it.

    Never listen to what politicians say, look at what they do.

  5. Olaf says

    The US and UK have big problems finding good engineers and science educated people. They actually have to import them from all around the world.

    Lacking of human heros doing heroic stuff like landing on the moon will not help to convince US people to go and study science and engineering.

    I am so sorry but astronauts going to ISS is not really the heroic stuff any-more.

  6. Vedic says

    “The US and UK have big problems finding good engineers and science educated people”

    Humm.. but we have excellent programmers and IT people.

    Let’s face it humans on other moons and planets in our solar system is not safe: It’s not like we’re going to set up a green house and start growing potatoes.

    We won’t be terraforming our local planet group any time soon, and using AI, bio feed-back, robots and rovers really is the way to explore – Humans are the way to colonise.

    Sure, Spirit, Odyssey et al are exreamily limited by comparison and a human could do 1000 times more science, but sending a human out on a multi billion $ mission just so they can pick up a rock or use a petrey dish on another planet really isn’t the way to go.

    Even if it is a remarkable achievement…

  7. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    Why not. The American military is already working on combat models for the field of battle instead of using humans so why not use them for passive purposes in space?
    Perhaps robotics in space replaces human exploration is the main goal of Obama – especially as the robots are expendable and they don’t need all the frailties they have to take for humans like air, water and food. Cancelling Ares might have been a good idea after all.
    Is a robot saluting an American flag on the moon considered too kitch? Perhaps we may soon find out!

  8. William928 says

    @Vedic,

    I agree wholeheartedly with you. With our current technology limitations, manned expeditions are too cost prohibitive and unsafe, and offer an unsatisfactory return on investment. What’s wrong with continued Cassini and New Horizons type programs? Seems to me we’re learning a great deal about or Solar System at a fraction of the cost.

    @Olaf: “Currently we know and have more detailed images of Saturn’s moons that(sic) our own moon.” Huh? What images are you looking at? Thankfully, we do have a wealth of images and information about Saturn, Jupiter, and their moons(utilizing unmanned missions, btw) but more than of our own moon? I don’t see it……

  9. hal10000 says

    Prior to a Manned mission to Mars. I’d imagine several of these androids on the surface of Mars being controlled by Astronauts in real time in an outpost on Phobos.

  10. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    hal10000 said; “I’d imagine several of these androids on the surface of Mars being controlled by Astronauts in real time in an outpost on Phobos.”

    No. Clearly they would be self-sufficient. If you send astronauts to Mars, you might as well land them there.
    Also they are robots, not androids. You’ve seen too many Spielberg films methinks.

  11. Olaf says

    @Vedic
    “Humm.. but we have excellent programmers and IT people.”

    You mean those outsourced in India?

    I would find it really cool to work as a software developer on the robotics part for any mission. But what inspired me to start learning electronics and later software developer is actually the heroic moon landings.

    ISS and space shuttle is not very exiting and would probably never motivated to go into the job I do now.

    @William928
    Before the LRO, the images of the Moon used in Google Moon was worse than the images fron IO on Jupiter. We had more detailed images of the rovers on Mars that the lunar landers on the Moon.

    Without the constellation program, the LRO would even not be up there right now.

    Extending Cassini is a wise choice. New horizons, I am sitting at the front seat but I would have preferred it so go into orbit. But that route would probably have taken 50 years to get there because it had to slow down to Pluto’s speed.

  12. Craigboy says

    Wouldn’t it be cheaper to use wheels?

  13. ZomZom says

    Why is this anthropomorphized design superior to a rover? Smacks of PR to me.

    The moon is only three days away. Focusing on techniques and infrastructure to sustain a human presence on the moon would be very valuable to future exploration of Mars and is within our reach. This seems like a curiously-timed distraction to take focus from the administrations epic failure in this regard.

  14. Another Drew says

    Robots and Empire, eh? Asimov must be rolling over in his grave. What’s the advantage of sending humanoid robots on exploration missions? Avatars are impractical to use even at the Moon nevermind at longer distances where the light time can be counted in hours or longer. Specialized robotics designed specifically for the task would be better. But even then, what’s the point of exploring a place if real, live humans don’t follow?

  15. Torbjorn Larsson OM says

    Well, that is one way to do it.

    there is no reason to send probes to the Moon if no humans go to it.

    Huh? What about all the science that we want to do?

    First, what the Moon can tell us about planet formation and planet interaction with the sun in general is valuable. And it is the cheapest way to get that science.

    Second, what the Moon can tell us about Earth formation specifically is very valuable. It contains a record of our planet early stages that has been erased here. There is no price on that.

    Third and fourth, it is very likely that the Moon also keeps a more or less unique geological and biological record of early Earth. (As material blasted off at the LHB and deposited on its surface.) Perhaps the Lagrange points contains pieces as well, but how would you find them?

    Likely priceless as well. Don’t we want to know how life starts in the universe, and especially how it started here? Seems to me humans have wanted to know this for several millennium. And now you tell me there is “no reason”?!

    Avatars are impractical to use even at the Moon nevermind at longer distances

    They would be very valuable in many cases such as Mars, where it is easy to orbit or set up staging posts (Phobos), but no one yet knows how to land heavy craft needed for human visits.

    An avatar controlled without much lag from orbit would be invaluable when humans can’t land, and at the same time human presence is needed to do the exploration such as when paleontologists hunts for microfossils. If you can’t do such complicated and contingent tasks with rovers on Earth, how on Mars do you expect to do it out there?

    I’ll bet that is one of the motivations used for such projects.

  16. damian says

    Avatars are a great idea, this is very complimentary to the idea of NOT leaving zero gravity once you have made the effort to escaping earths.

    Humans still get to go to space, but we are far more likely to stay in space and explore remotely.

    It makes perfect sense.

    Having a (robot) shaped in our image is psychologically valuable. In zero gravity however a monkey shaped robot would be far more appropriate as legs have far more utility for grasping then locomotion.

    Then there is no reason why legs could not be fitted with wheels. The Robot body shape is after all interchangeable. Or upgradable with accesories. Besides, the human design is a particualrily succesful one. 🙂

    As for telepresense, The day someone makes a (Game) where we can control such devices in space (for real) is going to very rich. (Think Avatar)

    Damian

  17. Wolter says

    Well, it seems R2 is in need for some legs then.

  18. p_ward_ramdohr says

    I had the chance to do the Level 9 Tour at Johnson Space Center last year. I could not believe that they were actually thinking of using android style robots to “drive” a rover vehicle. I asked “Why not use servos and actuators designed into the vehicle?” I obviously hit an awkward nerve because the tour guide decided to move on as we were behind schedule.

    I can tell you I am not a bit surprised about the cancellation of the back to the moon program. I was not impressed with the new stuff under development. Most stuff looked like it was being developed by Holywood cgi artists than actual scientists thinking!

    Cheers…

    P

    PS… no flames please!

  19. Lawrence B. Crowell says

    This are the way any facility on the moon would largely be managed. Astronomical instrumentation on the moon could be depolyed, and much of the maintenance could be done robotically. A telepresent downlink to humans at mission control would serve as well as flesh and bone astronauts up there. Further, the robots could remain up there for years and never get tired or need meals.

    As Crumb points out we are seeing the evolution of robotic warfare. The pilots of these drone attacks do their stuff in Nevada! I read some time back about a fighter pilot who “didn’t like what he saw,” but that is the way things are going.

    LC

  20. Olaf says

    @Torbjorn Larsson

    “Huh? What about all the science that we want to do? ”
    Do you really think that after this cancellation they will have money to send probes to the Moon?

    Then why did they stop sending probes to the Moon after Apollo 17?

    Quite the opposite, they will use that money to create satellites to study global warming. You can’t sell science stuff but you can sell commercial interesting data like global temperature.

    I am not against Earth observing satellites but it is a waste of time knowing that there is a problem but no politician dares to do something against it because he is afraid of losing votes.

    Maybe you have forgotten, the Shuttle came here to aid the military, science only came as second.

    What we now lose is technology of humans to build structures and live on the Moon. This could aid us directly in understanding how to build structures and how to recycle waste products.

    But also think about it. Do you think that you can sell a Moon probe to the public they cannot be associated with while the money could be used for another TV satellite so they can watch soccer?

    Time will tell, but something tells me that even IS astronauts will not be sent by US any-more in the future since it is too expensive.

  21. These appear to me a lot more advanced than the state of the art. In other words, CGI-engineered.

    100 days?

    Show it on Earth first.

    Agile humanoid movement, with power supplies built in, capable of working at lunar temperatures and in lunar dust environment.

    I must have been missing out on a lot….

  22. Lawrence B. Crowell says

    Robots which walk and have a measure of manual dexterity do exist. In fact the technology has been moving forwards a lot since SONY built a robot around 2005 that could walk up and down stairs and dance to music.

    LC

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