ATHLETE Kevin Hand

Meet ATHLETE, NASA’s Next Robot Moon Walker

Haulin’ freight on the moon.
By Rose Pastore
Posted 01.23.2013 at 10:00 am

To build and supply a lunar base, astronauts will need heavy-duty space trucks for transporting gear. There’s just one problem: no roads. That’s why NASA engineers designed the rover they call ATHLETE (All-Terrain Hex-Limbed Extra-Terrestrial Explorer)—to handle any terrain, whether dusty, rocky, or crater-y.

The key is the rover’s six bendable spider legs and wheeled feet. On smooth surfaces, it rolls on those wheels; when it runs into an obstacle it can’t clear, it simply steps over it. ATHLETE can also split into a pair of robots that together pick up and haul specially designed shipping containers. (A lander would bring a container to the surface separately.)

So far, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have demonstrated that their $2 million half-size prototype—which consists of two semiautonomous, three-legged robots—can move cargo, walk on inclines, and use tools. The researchers say the actual, 26-foot-tall rover could be ready to start working in space by 2017.

Read more: Meet ATHLETE, NASA's Next Robot Moon Walker | Popular Science.

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