Fast Company

NASA's Madcap Sci-Fi Plan Could Get an Android Moonwalking Within 3 Years

projectm moon

NASA's moonshot program is in tatters, and the shuttle's due to fly for the last time soon ... but it doesn't mean there's no exciting space news. For example: Did you know NASA could send an android to the moon inside just three years?

This crazy scheme even has a funky, mysterious title to go with its radical science and engineering: Project M. It's not funded at Agency level yet, let alone at the governmental level (from where dedicated funding would have to come) but it seems to be a highly mature project, with some engineering precedents already in place, including robotics and shuttle-derived rocketry.

The moonshot would work like this: NASA would fire aloft a modified existing rocket, making the most of the fact that the rocket wouldn't have to be human-rated, and no pesky (and heavy) supplies like oxygen, water, and food need be hurled moonwards to accompany the robot. This launch would place a small autonomously flying capsule to the moon, which would be propelled using green fuel (liquid methane and oxygen) and which would make an automatic landing. When all was safe, the capsule would pop open to reveal the robot, a humanoid-shaped walker with manipulator arms that are more or less analogous to human arms. The 'bot would be self-sufficient to some extent, but it will also be steered by Earth-based astronauts. The purpose is to test and refine the basic engineering issues that any future long-term lunar or Martian missions would face, in terms of construction. But there'd also be room for perfecting lunar mission management processes, performing opportunistic science with the benefit of more adept manipulators than typical rovers possess, and to do student-sourced experimentation.

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You may even recognize the upper half of Project M's android: It's a development of the amazing Robonaut device that'll be being put through its paces aboard the International Space Station later this year. Its legs, like a more sophisticated version of Asimo, are already being developed by NASA independently, as the video below demonstrates.

For all sorts of reasons, this fast-track moon mission makes sense. Scientifically, there's a definite plus to be gained from lunar experiments. The engineering lessons that would be learned would be valuable for future manned missions. There're even financial benefits, since unlike humans, Moondroid could actually be "parked" on the moon indefinitely. And there'd be a definite good-feeling PR spike (and associated effects like more kids interested in learning science) earned by doing something so very bold. So exciting. So damned sci-fi. In fact, thinking about it... isn't there some sort of space opera precedent in shooting a capsule to a dusty alien terrain, and watching a golden android trotting through the dusty sand?

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1 Comments

  • Bob Lee

    Oddly enough, a NASA Project to send Robonaut to the Moon does make sense as a stepping stone project before Mars deployment.

    Q: So who pays for the project? GM?

    GM Marketing has enough worldwide marketing money to put 3 billion cases of blue cheese on the moon, and since Robonaut is a GM effort, it is only fair to assume that GM Marketing might have the pizazz to figure out how to invite the entire PGA to play golf with lunar-based Robonauts every weekend.

    Hey, everyone wants to hit a line drive over 100 kilometers, though if you think about it, those lunar bunkers are killer for finding white golf balls: Fluorescent-orange radar-reflective golf balls could be totally acceptable for Moon golf.

    Planned appropriately, every hole could be designed around recycling test drilling sites for lunar ice, the same way some golf courses are built by recycling Earth-side strip-mining sites.

    A golf ball making a hole-in-one might actually be warm enough to set off a small steam explosion, when it hits the ice at the bottom of the hole, rocketing the golf ball straight back out, which would lead to a totally different meaning to the term "water hazard."

    That, of course, would be a good reason to take one heck of a Moon Mulligan.

    Q: How about having Hollywood foot the mission bill?

    With 3D stereo vision, the Robonaut mission could be quite a show.

    Perhaps, IMAX and Jim Cameron could head up the financing effort and get News Corp to pick up the exclusive distribution rights for live 3D HDTV broadcasts from the lunar Robonaut Fox News desk.

    With the Moon's earth-side view for a backdrop, the Fox News desk can finally get rid of all those bogus Google Map zoom-in sequences and finally report real-time Earth-side news. That would be the way to scoop the news competition.

    Sean Hannity would love reporting from a lunar studio. Finally, Sean could be miles above Rush Limbaugh's network ratings, which would make Rush "luna"-ticked off.

    (Musings of a punny mind ...)