Daily Archives: April 8th, 2008

Mobile Moonbases

From New Scientist:

NASA engineers are testing out a giant, six-legged robot that could pick up and move a future Moon base thousands of kilometres across the lunar surface, allowing astronauts to explore much more than just the area around their landing site.

In a 2005 report about its exploration plans, NASA said it wanted to set up a base at a fixed location on the Moon after initially returning humans there in 2020.

But a gargantuan robotic vehicle called ATHLETE (All-Terrain Hex-Legged Extra-Terrestrial Explorer) could change that. Measuring about 7.5 metres wide, with legs more than 6 metres long, the robot could act essentially like a turtle, carrying the astronauts’ living quarters around on its back.

It was designed by engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, US, who are now testing two small-scale prototypes of the robot.

The astronauts’ 15-tonne living quarters, or habitat, could be mounted on ATHLETE before sending it to the Moon in a lunar lander. That would solve one major problem for NASA – how to lift the habitat off the lander, whose cargo area may sit up to 6 metres above the ground, and set it down at a desired location.

ATHLETE’s wheel-tipped legs are so long, “it just steps right off and carries the payload anywhere you want,” says JPL’s Brian Wilcox, who heads the ATHLETE project.

This is a pretty popular post. I found this at Space.com, Spacedaily.com and the Daily Galaxy. I guess it could be a feasable project, if one takes the tact of transporting pre-built habitats to the Moon. And the obvious advantage is that because of the mobility, the explorers can look for sources of fuel and water far afield without tiring out the human crew and exposing them to dangerous radiation.

The down-side to this would be the initial cost and lifting the heavy apparatus into orbit and on to the Moon. Already critics of NASA’s Contellation Program have dubbed it ‘Apollo on food stamps’. When America was worried about the Soviets during the 1960s, NASA got 4% of the National Budget. Now they only get 1/6 of 1% of the budget and people still whine the agency gets too much.

My native cynicism says that this idea ain’t gonna fly, unless the human component is taken out of it. Then the public would ‘buy’ into it, because ‘no human life will be in danger’ and the large mobile explorer can roam the lunar surface doing research for the ‘crew’ on Earth or ISS via virtual reality.