NASA and LEGO Continue Brick-Solid Partnership with Perseverance and Ingenuity LEGO Models

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover used the WATSON camera on its robotic arm to capture a selfie with the Ingenuity helicopter on April 6, 2021 from an approximate distance of 3.9 meters (13 feet) from the rover. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems)

Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA-JPL) are busy keeping the Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter functioning in Jezero Crater on Mars while these robotic explorers continue the search for ancient microbial life on the Red Planet. But some of those same engineers have also been busy working with LEGO designers on new one-tenth-scale LEGO Technic buildable models of these very same robotic explorers with the goal of inspiring the next generation of NASA scientists and engineers.

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Exploring Lava Tubes on Other Worlds Will Need Rovers That Can Work Together

Artist's rendition of autonomous rovers using the breadcrumb style communication network within a lava tube. They are exploring and collecting data, which is then relayed back to the mother rover at the tube's entrance, which then relays the data to an orbiter or a blimp. (Credit: John Fowler/Wikimedia Commons, Mark Tarbell and Wolfgang Fink/University of Arizona)

Planetary exploration, specifically within our own Solar System, has provided a lifetime of scientific knowledge about the many worlds beyond Earth. However, this exploration, thus far, has primarily been limited to orbiters and landers/rovers designed for surface exploration of the celestial bodies they visit. But what if we could explore subsurface environments just as easily as we’ve been able to explore the surface, and could some of these subsurface dwellings not only shelter future astronauts, but host life, as well?

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NASA’s Psyche Mission is Back on. It’ll Launch Towards its Metal Asteroid Target Later This Year

A June 2020 artist illustration of NASA's Psyche spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University)

NASA’s Psyche mission is back on track for launch and is now scheduled for a potential October 2023 launch date, according to an October 2022 statement from NASA. This comes after missing its originally planned launch date between August and October of 2022, and becoming subject to an independent review board, whose results were announced in November 2022.

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Zhurong is Rolling on Mars

China's Zhurong rover on Mars
An image from China's Zhurong rover shows spacecraft hardware in the foreground and Martian terrain in the background. (Credit: CNSA)

On May 22nd, 2021, the Zhurong rover – part of Tianwen-1, China’s first mission to Mars – descended from its lander and drove on the Martian surface for the first time. According to the mission’s official social media account, the rover drove down its descent ramp from the Tianwen-1 lander at 10:40 a.m. Beijing time (07:40 p.m. PDT; 10:40 p.m. EDT) and placed its wheels upon the surface of Mars.

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Why Lava Tubes Should be Our Top Exploration Priority on Other Worlds

Spectacular high Sun view of the Mare Tranquillitatis pit crater revealing boulders on an otherwise smooth floor. The 100 meter pit may provide access to a lunar lava tube. Image Credit: By NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University - http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA13518, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54853313

When magma comes out of the Earth onto the surface, it flows as lava. Those lava flows are fascinating to watch, and they leave behind some unique landforms and rocks. But a lot of what’s fascinating about these flows can be hidden underground, as lava tubes.

These lava tubes are turning out to be a very desirable target for exploration on other worlds, just as they are here on Earth.

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Underwater Robot Captures its First Sample 500 Meters Below the Surface of the Ocean

The underwater robot Nereid Under Ice (NUI) being lowered into the Aegean Sea. NUI became the first underwater vehicle to take an automated sample from the sea floor. Image Credit: Evan Lubofsky, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) says their underwater robot has just completed the first-ever automated underwater sampling operation. The robot is called Nereid Under Ice (NEI) and it collected the sample in Greece. WHOI is developing Nereid in association with NASA’s Planetary Science and Technology from Analog Research (PSTAR) program.

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Shape-shifting Robots Like These Could Be Just What We Need to Explore Titan

A prototype of the transforming robot Shapeshifter is tested in the robotics yard at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

When it comes to space exploration, it’s robots that do most of the work. That trend will continue as we send missions onto the surfaces of worlds further and further into the Solar System. But for robots to be effective in the challenging environments we need to explore—like Saturn’s moon Titan—we need more capable robots.

A new robot NASA is developing could be the next step in robotic exploration.

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