Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
NASA Moon Robotics Software Space Science Hardware

NASA Tests Hardware, Software On Armadillo Rocket 108

Posted by Soulskill
from the shape-of-things-to-come dept.
porcinist writes "On June 23 NASA successfully tested hardware and software on an Armadillo Rocket. With the end of NASA's Constellation program in sight, NASA is starting to focus on new, innovative exploration programs like Project-M. This project is meant to land a robotic humanoid on the moon in a thousand days. To meet this goal NASA teamed with Armadillo Aerospace and Draper Labs (the lab responsible for creating the original Apollo Guidance Computer) to integrate and flight test a real-time navigation system in only seven weeks. This might be the fastest thing NASA has done in 30 years. Maybe NASA is taking Obama's new vision to heart."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

NASA Tests Hardware, Software On Armadillo Rocket

Comments Filter:
  • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @09:22AM (#32785230)

    There's a charming video of him giving a talk at nasa about how really rocket science isn't as hard as people claim.

  • Surely there are designs that can meet the demands of the environment better than the human form.
    • Re:Why humanoid? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by khallow (566160) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @09:27AM (#32785268)
      Two things. First, the humanoid is the result of millions of years of recent evolution. It's a solid design. Sure, you probably can come up with a better design, but why throw away what already works? That's wasteful. Second, we have millennia of human technology designed for the humanoid form. Why throw that away either? Same argument about waste applies.
      • Re:Why humanoid? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by destroyer661 (847607) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @09:35AM (#32785318) Homepage

        Two things. First, the humanoid is the result of millions of years of recent evolution. It's a solid design. Sure, you probably can come up with a better design, but why throw away what already works? That's wasteful. Second, we have millennia of human technology designed for the humanoid form. Why throw that away either? Same argument about waste applies.

        Sure, on Earth. We haven't been living in space for millions of years, but under the Earth's gravity, the atmosphere, etc. Space is an entirely different environment and we would likely have developed entirely different in that environment. The tools argument is the most valid of the lot, but realistically we could/already have designed something better to accomplish tasks.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by khallow (566160)
          Last I checked, Earth was the only game in town. And many tools and infrastructure either don't depend on this environment or can be modified slightly to work in your space environment. Space isn't an entirely different environment. The laws of physics, for example, remain the same.

          The tools argument is the most valid of the lot, but realistically we could/already have designed something better to accomplish tasks.

          And pay considerable more for that design.

        • by GaryOlson (737642)
          And when an entity with millions of years of evolution in space drops by to say "Hello", I am quite sure we will attempt to copy as many of its advantages as possible. Until then, we work with what we have. Or perhaps you have a few truly inspired and genius designs with which you would like to enlighten us?
        • I think it's the best idea, because we are humanoid, and we can help another humanoid deal with various problems. The simplest case would be for instance, in the event of some unusual problem, a direct interface robot-human. you put on your gloves, your headset, and you start moving naturally, while your moves are replicated by the robot.
          keep things as familiar as possible when going into the unknown. and remember: the department of redundancy department is your friend when in outer space.

        • Sure, on Earth. We haven't been living in space for millions of years, but under the Earth's gravity

          True. But this robot while be operating on the Moon and, possibly, on Mars where there is gravity.

          It is a neat question, though. How will the lighter gravity on the Moon and Mars affect walking? Astronauts on the moon tended to "bunny-hop" because walking was difficult. Will this robot be able to "learn" to walk in 1/6 gravity?

        • So if the robots break for whatever reason, how do we send a team up to accomplish their job with their tools? I'm not saying it's a bad idea, rather that to go with another form, it might take more development than the /. community is prepared for. Unless you would like to start with making /. a place for non humanoid robots. That might make for a good april fools day joke.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by stjobe (78285)

        Sure, the humanoid form is great - for humans. At our current level of technology it's awkward at best for our robots.

        The humanoid form is a solution to a set of problems that our ancestors needed to solve to survive. Our robots don't need to solve the same problems, so it might actually be better (read: less wasteful) to design non-humanoid robots.

        That said, I'm all for the fem-bots.

        • by khallow (566160)

          Sure, the humanoid form is great - for humans. At our current level of technology it's awkward at best for our robots.

          Unless the robots happen to be humanoid enough in form to use off the shelf tools and hardware. I don't see that making specialized hardware that only one or two robots use is better or cheaper than reusing hardware that billions of humans already use.

          The humanoid form is a solution to a set of problems that our ancestors needed to solve to survive. Our robots don't need to solve the same problems, so it might actually be better (read: less wasteful) to design non-humanoid robots./quote I disagree. In my view, there is considerable overlap in the problems that ancient humans had and robots have now. And nothing prevents you or anyone else from designing non-humanoid robots now. Maybe, if the design is good enough, we'll adapt people to that.

          • like how specialized printheads are wasteful for machines to use when humans have been using perfectly good,cheap paint brushes for thousands of years.

            We should just design machines with hands similar to human hands that can use paint brushes and ignore costly tech like injet technology.

            • by khallow (566160)

              like how specialized printheads are wasteful for machines to use when humans have been using perfectly good,cheap paint brushes for thousands of years.

              And printing is just as flexible, open-ended, simple, and dynamic as exploring the surface of another world. I think the analogy is broken.

              • not really.
                Humanoid simply isn't a particularly good design for a lot of things.

                • by khallow (566160)

                  Humanoid simply isn't a particularly good design for a lot of things.

                  For the sort of open-ended, complex problems we're discussing here, yes, it is with the key reason being that it is backwards compatible with human technology. I've already spoken my piece and explained why. I really don't know why people are so adverse to the humanoid shape.

                  • because a design built around a calcium based skeleton, which has to include the business end of a Von Neumann machine and a circulatory system and digestive system + protection for all of the above is stupid to emulate when what you're building isn't a Von Neumann machine, can use metal rather than calcium carbonate for it's frame and has no need for a circulatory or digestive system.

                    something more spiderlike makes vastly more sense for unknown hazardous terrain.
                    If you really really want it to be backwards

                    • by khallow (566160)

                      Lastly the cost of putting things into orbit is huge. you're going to want to customise most of what you send up if only to save weight. It costs 10,000 bucks per pound to get stuff to geosynchronous orbit so if you spend 5000 bucks getting a custom tool to cut a pound off the weight(say by replacing hand grips with bolt holes and using lighter materials) then you've just saved 5000 bucks.

                      How long do you think that condition is going to last? My view is that there is a long term trend to cheaper launch costs. And for chemical rockets, the floor on launch costs is around $100 per pound for a frequently launched, reusable launch vehicle to LEO. That would be about $200 per pound to GSO (if we go directly from Earth to GSO). So almost two orders of magnitude in cost reduction to go.

                      By any chance did you read Asimov a lot when you were younger?

                      I still do read him on occasion.

                    • http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewnews.html?id=301 [spaceref.com]
                      have a look at "GEOSYNCHRONOUS TRANSFER ORBIT"

                      Now of course that will drop but I think you're being more than a little optimistic assuming it will reach 1% of that price any time soon.
                      Perhaps if someone builds a space elevator(or similar).

                      The reason I mention Asimov is that he had a bit of a thing for humanoid robots. Old romantic really. And it is true that if you want people to interact with machines naturally then humanoid would be good but really if you w

                    • by khallow (566160)

                      Now of course that will drop but I think you're being more than a little optimistic assuming it will reach 1% of that price any time soon. Perhaps if someone builds a space elevator(or similar).

                      I didn't say it would reach that price any time soon. That will require a much larger space economy and technological development. A space elevator has the possibility of driving the price much lower than that (floor is $10-20 per pound at current energy prices, less if they have downmass and are recycling energy gained from the downmass, but that would be at volumes comparable to passenger jet or railroads, not going to happen in the near future).

                      The reason I mention Asimov is that he had a bit of a thing for humanoid robots. Old romantic really. And it is true that if you want people to interact with machines naturally then humanoid would be good but really if you want the machines to be able to use off the shelf tools then a pair of humanlike hands is all you really need- a humanoid torso, legs and head don't do very much for you unless you also want your robot to take part in a sci-fi movie.

                      It was 50s sci fi. Of course he did.

                      As an aside, I still

                    • 10,000 bucks per pound to GEO.

                      shave 1 pound off the weight of an item(say a 5 pound item goes to 4)

                      cost before change to get standard cheapy human tech item to geo: 50,000

                      Cost with change: 40,000 + 5000 for a custom tool.

                      so no.
                      In that scenario you would be saving money.

        • by khallow (566160)
          Sorry, I messed up my reply.

          Sure, the humanoid form is great - for humans. At our current level of technology it's awkward at best for our robots.

          Unless the robots happen to be humanoid enough in form (they don't need to be fully humanoid in order to have a humanoid arm or three) to use off the shelf tools and hardware. I don't see that making specialized hardware that only one or two robots use is better or cheaper than reusing hardware that billions of humans already use.

          The humanoid form is a solution to a set of problems that our ancestors needed to solve to survive. Our robots don't need to solve the same problems, so it might actually be better (read: less wasteful) to design non-humanoid robots.

          I disagree. In my view, there is considerable overlap in the problems that ancient humans had and robots have now. And nothing prevents you or anyone el

        • [Adult Swim]I'm waiting for the Adrienne Barbeau-bots. [/Adult Swim]
      • That's ridiculous. For one thing, the humanoid form was not designed, it evolved, and it's hardly optimal even for it's own environment. "millennia of human technology designed for the humanoid form" - yeah? Like what? Chairs, toilets, car seats, bicycles, ? I haven't had my coffee yet this morning but I can't think of much else that demands a humanoid form. Most things that can be manipulated by a five finger hand can be manipulated by other forms of grippers, and in any case manipulatory appendages ar

        • Personally I think the humanoid design is a sop to public relations.

          Maybe it's good for R'n'D, and practise for sending real humans later.

        • Re:Why humanoid? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by khallow (566160) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @10:03AM (#32785472)

          For one thing, the humanoid form was not designed, it evolved, and it's hardly optimal even for it's own environment.

          It works for its environment. The human evolved to solve many of the same problems that robotics designers have to deal with in space. It doesn't matter if the process was designed/intentional or not. It's free work that already happened. Plus there are a few billion humans around who already use the form in question.

          "millennia of human technology designed for the humanoid form" - yeah? Like what? Chairs, toilets, car seats, bicycles, ?

          Yes, also hand tools, mechanical interfaces, building designs, transportation systems, etc. Or are you going to claim that the end state for human development of the Solar System is going to be the occasional box with instruments to some distant location?

          Something like it with all the joints involved is certainly not going to be optimal for a harsh, dusty environment such as the lunar surface. Designs like the mars rovers with their multiple balloon tires and low center of gravity would be perform better in low G.

          Whoa. Dust in space? We have dust on Earth. How do we keep it from getting into human joints? Skin... whoa. So what can balloon tires manipulate on Mars? Right, they're just for transportation and not a real argument against the humanoid form. If there were humans on Mars, they'd probably have multiple balloon tires and a low center of gravity too just as they do on Earth. Did someone forget about the automobile?

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Dragoniz3r (992309)
            So your contention is that we should send a humanoid robot to the moon, because hand tools have been developed to fit the human form? Got news for you buddy, this robot isn't going up there with a Ryobi power drill and a Craftsman toolbox. Your arguments might have merit if it was a discussion of sending humans versus sending rovers, but it's not. It's about sending a bi-pedal robot versus sending a rover.
            No matter what we send up there, it will NOT be re-using all these technologies that you point to as ha
            • Why the hate?

              So your contention is that we should send a humanoid robot to the moon, because hand tools have been developed to fit the human form? Got news for you buddy, this robot isn't going up there with a Ryobi power drill and a Craftsman toolbox.

              Actually the R2 robo-torso (in TFA) was built for the ISS, so it was intended to work in an environment designed for human EVAs. Hence all the grips, parts, tools, and distances between them, etc, were built to human scale.

              Sending a teleoperated R2 torso plus legs to the moon is intended to lower costs by reusing existing work, not designing an entirely new teleoperated rover. Also, it's a wonderfully general purpose design, if your mission goals are changed part way through development.

              Plus yo

            • by khallow (566160)

              I can't decide if you're a troll or not, but the debate here is about method of locomotion.

              I haven't bothered before to point out that it isn't just about locomotion. Humanoid isn't just bipedal. The counterarguments have been so sloppy that it hasn't been relevant before.

              • Humanoid isn't just bipedal.

                  Now that's a pretty foolish statement. Of course the humanoid form is bipedal - it's part of the definition. The whole point of my first post was that there are better methods of locomotion for robots in different environments.

                  The sloppy arguments are yours.

                 

            • Thank you, Entity Dragoniz3r. I apologize for the latency in responding to you; my humanoid communications avatar suffered a transportation accident that left it incapable of cognition and communication for a few planetary cycles of your time. It was only moderately damaged; it is being repaired and should be completely back in service within a few hours. In the meantime any miscommunications here are entirely due to my inability to completely reconstruct the avatar in the time elapsed.

              I do

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Patch86 (1465427)

        So are tigers, octopuses, chimpanzees, rhinos, giraffes, and pretty much any other animal design you care to think of (and there are thousands upon thousands). There is zero reason why a monkey shaped robot is the best solution for a scientific mission to the Moon.

        And the argument about reusing technology is spurious in the context; everything sent into space is custom designed and made anyway (right down to the ball-point pens). It's not like NASA would launch a sample return mission armed with a Dyson vac

        • by khallow (566160)

          So are tigers, octopuses, chimpanzees, rhinos, giraffes, and pretty much any other animal design you care to think of (and there are thousands upon thousands). There is zero reason why a monkey shaped robot is the best solution for a scientific mission to the Moon.

          How many of those forms are tool-users? We don't have millennia of sophisticated tools available for the octopus or rhino forms, for example.

          • by Patch86 (1465427)

            So what you're saying is that you're desperate to send an authentic medieval crossbow to the moon, and are looking for something that can operate it?

            Wait, no? You want to send custom designed cameras, drills and microscopes to the Moon? Then wouldn't they be just as easy to design them for use with pretty much anything with a corresponding interface?

            All the "shape of the robot" will affect is its ability to move about on the lunar surface. Humans aren't known for being particularity good about moving about

      • Re:Why humanoid? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by camperdave (969942) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @11:24AM (#32786016) Journal
        Two things. First, the humanoid is the result of millions of years of recent evolution. It's a solid design.

        Yes, that explains why birds, snakes, dogs, horses, lizards, etc all have humanoid shapes, and use humanoid methods of locomotion. Face it, bipedalism is rare for a reason. If you want all terrain evolutionary designed locomotion, look to the insects.

        Second, we have millennia of human technology designed for the humanoid form. Why throw that away either?

        Part of that technology base is an invention called "The Wheel". It has proven excellent where mobility and stability have been required. Furthermore, it doesn't need a lot of extremely complex, real time force feedback, orientation and gravity sensors, and computers to run. See, while humans have had millions of years to evolve, robots haven't. I hope this thing will be able to get up when it slips on a rock and falls down the side of a crater. I've never seen video of a humanoid shaped robot being able to get up while on a slope. Oh, and let's not forget the power requirements. Is a robotic walking gait less of a drain on batteries than a rocker-bogey system?
        • by khallow (566160)

          Face it, bipedalism is rare for a reason.

          It exists however and it works. Plus, I also mentioned the tool inventory.

          Part of that technology base is an invention called "The Wheel". It has proven excellent where mobility and stability have been required. Furthermore, it doesn't need a lot of extremely complex, real time force feedback, orientation and gravity sensors, and computers to run. See, while humans have had millions of years to evolve, robots haven't. I hope this thing will be able to get up when it slips on a rock and falls down the side of a crater. I've never seen video of a humanoid shaped robot being able to get up while on a slope. Oh, and let's not forget the power requirements. Is a robotic walking gait less of a drain on batteries than a rocker-bogey system?

          Not sure what you think you're trying to say here. "Wheel" is a concept. A lot of things use them. Doesn't mean that we can or should design a robot based merely on a concept. "I want a robot that has 'wheels'." What kind of requirement is that? A humanoid robot at least is compatible with current human technology. It could drive cars, wield tools, etc. Further, if some part of the humanoid form is undesirable, like legs, we can alway

        • by evilviper (135110)

          Face it, bipedalism is rare for a reason.

          Yes, because most animals don't need to travel several km over terrain each day. If they did, they'd be bipeds. Still the most efficient form we know of...

          • What are you talking about? Quite a number of animals travel several km of terrain per day. Horses, deer, various kinds of cattle, wolves, deer, bears, elephants, giraffe, wildebeest, zebras, and others. Enough time has passed for their form to have developed bipedalism if that was actually more efficient. What seems to be more efficient is long limbs. The only primarily bipedal animals are birds, kangaroos, and people. Birds because they have wings. Kangaroos (and relatives) are from Australia, home
            • by evilviper (135110)

              Quite a number of animals travel several km of terrain per day. Horses, deer, various kinds of cattle, wolves, deer, bears, elephants, giraffe, wildebeest, zebras, and others.

              Humans are able to travel much further, for extended periods (relative to body size and weight) than any other land mammals I'm aware of. Most of the animals you listed, while all able to travel a couple km in a day, do not do so (day after day) for an extended periods, as do humans.

              Enough time has passed for their form to have develo

      • by roman_mir (125474)

        Well, first off people are not good at standing up without consuming energy, so a biped, if it really behaves like a human cannot turn off dynamic stabilization. A hexapod on the other hand can, a car doesn't need any dynamic stabilization at all.

        Maybe there needs to be a number of different systems: cars to move things around quickly, hexapods to climb difficult terrain, androids to..., I don't know, to test environments for humans?

        There is no real reason to make a humanoid robot for sending it to space a

        • by khallow (566160)

          Well, first off people are not good at standing up without consuming energy, so a biped, if it really behaves like a human cannot turn off dynamic stabilization.

          Please come up with a better argument. First, dynamic stabilization is not a significant energy consumer (especially in a low or zero gravity environment). Second, with a few seconds of thought, I came up with three ready solutions to the problem: leaning, sitting, and lying down.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by roman_mir (125474)

            A better argument? Sure, how about securely stabilizing oneself in an environment not suited for only 2 legs, how about standing over a small crater? How about distributing weight across more than 2 points (feet) when digging? How about using 2 legs to provide vertical stabilization, while using 4 more to move down/up a steep slope? How about redundancy? How about running quickly, as in galloping if needed? Carrying more weight than a biped can? Please, we have 2 legs as a balance between our nutriti

            • by khallow (566160)
              Those are better arguments, but we've already solve those problems on Earth using humanoid compatible technologies.
      • Two things. First, the humanoid is the result of millions of years of recent evolution. It's a solid design. Sure, you probably can come up with a better design, but why throw away what already works? That's wasteful. Second, we have millennia of human technology designed for the humanoid form. Why throw that away either? Same argument about waste applies.

        Third, you don't want to waste the opportunity to make your robot look like frickin' Boba Fett. Same argument about waste applies yet again.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      The idea is telepresence. Theoretically the experience will be more immersive (and thus have more wow factor, and thus lead to more funding) if you control a humanoid. Of course, the problem is lag, which will utterly prevent any immersion anyway. I think it's dumb, too. If we had FTL communications then it might make sense.

      • Re:Why humanoid? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by openfrog (897716) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @11:04AM (#32785838)

        The idea is telepresence. (...) Of course, the problem is lag, which will utterly prevent any immersion anyway. I think it's dumb, too. (...)

        You make it sound such an evidence that I almost did not take notice; a bit over a 2 seconds time lag (back and forth) "utterly" prevents any immersion?

        Not so sure... Telepresence was also my first thought, and I think this is not dumb at all. Thinking about it, I think this is genius: you get all the advantages of man space exploration without the cost. You get the vital (in terms of funding) wow factor. Furthermore the technology you develop for that might have very useful applications on earth.

        Not dumb, not dumb at all.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          The ideal place for an operator to be would be the Earth-Moon L2 point... as long as the robot was on the same side of the moon.

          If you count encoding there's more than 2 seconds lag due to signalling used over such distances. And you need a full round trip, also...

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ch-chuck (9622)

      Public relations - being a political publically funded body, a humanoid form is much more appealing to the average taxpayer than a spider. (ew, yuk! why is it so ugly?) You know, we're talking about people who elect politicians based on their haircut.

    • Surely there are designs that can meet the demands of the environment better than the human form.

      Roomba?

  • Exploration (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gonoff (88518) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @09:30AM (#32785286)

    Until human beings actually go somewhere "out there", it is not exploration. It is investigation.

    Sending a robotic device to the moon is good preliminary investigation, but until people go back there, exploraion will not have restarted.

    Mars is completely unexplored. A lot of time & money has been well used on investgating it but the next stage needs to start.

    • by Hadlock (143607)

      A lot of time & money has been well used on investgating it but

      I think it might be better said that a lot of time and money has been spent trying to find solid justification to send a human out there. Fossils, liquid water, or better yet a real lifeform surviving on the planet would guarantee funding for decades to come. Until that day comes we're stuck playing with grownup RC toys on other planets.

    • by khallow (566160)

      Until human beings actually go somewhere "out there", it is not exploration. It is investigation.

      Uh huh. That's semantics games. The obvious rebuttal is that nobody else uses that definition of "exploration".

    • The word and concept of "exploration" is not necessarily human related. Animals and robots acting on our behalf can and do "explore." Why did the chicken cross the road? I would argue: "to find new resources and to expand it's knowledge of the surrounding area." Sounds like exploring to me. I don't necessarily disagree that humans should at some point wander around Mars and beyond, i think that the available tech for human travel beyond LEO is still too costly to bring us enough return on our investment
    • by Kjella (173770)

      If you refuse all exploration done using technology, you refuse everything we can't see with the naked eye. People care about discoveries, not about how long the wire between the sensor and the display is. If we send a probe 10 km below the sea, does it matter if the man watching the camera is inside the tin can or up on the surface watching the same monitor? Not to most people. Also, for 99.9% of us we'll never see it by our own eyes anyway, only what is documented. And a robot can document as well as we d

      • I think the OP is confused about the difference between exploring and colonization. The former we can do with 'expensive RC toys', the latter will probably require the ISV Venture Star.

        (Wanders off muttering 'God bless Vespucci land ... ')
    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by gad_zuki! (70830)

      >Until human beings actually go somewhere "out there", it is not exploration. It is investigation.

      Bullshit semantics. Be it via meatbag or via robot, you're still exploring. Except the meatbag option is 1000x the cost and gives us less than 100000x the range with current technology. We've explored Venus and Saturn and Jupiter. You can deny it all you want, but you wont convince anyone outside of your marginalized minority echochamber.

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      Yeah, and we should plant a cross and a flag.
      What is more like exploration ? having a map of the underground resources gathered from orbit or having a man saluting a flag and exploring a 500x500m area of the planet ?
      Humans are very bad and clumsy at exploration. You need them for colonization, but exploration (ie : gaining knowledge about unknown lands) is better handled by robots.
      • by Gonoff (88518)

        I am not sure what a cross or a flag has to do with it. I would be more than happy to have a flag for everyone used in future exploration but suspect that this would go down in some parts of the US about as well as a national leader who actally knows that 96% of the human race are from outside the USA.

        Like I said, investigation is good because it brings knowledge, but that is a different thing from exploration. No, I am not talking about colonisation. Exploration is when a sentient being goes somewhere t

  • Seven weeks! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rgravina (520410)

    NASA teamed with Armadillo Aerospace and Draper Labs ... to integrate and flight test a real-time navigation system in only seven weeks.

    They probably just replaced their Waterfall software development process with something agile, like Scrum. :)

    What's that, three two-week iterations with one one-week pre-launch crunch?

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @09:58AM (#32785436) Journal
    Seriously, the VTVL are actually designed for the moon. The amount of energy to llo is about the same as to hit 60 m/100 km on earth. That means that if the vehicles (including armadillo, new shepard, and masten's) are able to hit 60 m, then they can come back from lunar surface. What is the use of that? Send a large fuel depot and then we have a truck that can send cargo down to the surface and then return.

    BTW, the fact that this was done so quickly, hints to me that this is the second vehicle. I am guessing that the first vehicle IS the new shepard.
    • Send a large fuel depot and then we have a truck that can send cargo down to the surface and then return. [...] BTW, the fact that this was done so quickly, hints to me that this is the second vehicle. I am guessing that the first vehicle IS the new shepard.

      Err, I think you may have run off with the fairies a little there. Read TFA [nasa.gov] and watch the videos, this is a low-mass low-funding mini-mission to demonstrate technology/techniques. If it gets fully funded, it'll launch on a regular old off-the-shelf Atlas, and it won't come back. It's a lovely project, and I hope they get fully funded, but it's not a major mission.

      Upon landing the robot will deploy and walk on the surface performing [...] science of opportunity (i.e. using existing sensors on the robot or small science instruments); and simple student experiments.

      The mission is about inspiration, streamlining agency practices and processes and using unconventional partnerships, and building a workforce and demonstrating technologies to enable the continuation of human exploration beyond low earth orbit.

    • by QuantumG (50515) *

      It's a prototype, that particular vehicle won't be going to the Moon.

  • 3 years !!! I would hope we could put a small robot on the moon in 3 years - NASA/JPL designed/built and launched Spirit and Opportunity Rovers to Mars in 3 years

      1. Rovers are MUCH easier to design, and build, esp. when you already had others there.
      2. Mars is MUCH easier to land at esp. for something as light as the rovers. It has an atmosphere.

      OTH, doing a humanoid robot will enable it to be of use here in the states. Why? Low-end work. In addition, such a robot will be useful for a mars/moon base. The reason is that they will have similar constraints as humans, but will tolerate extremes better. They will basically be able to continue building a base while humans d

      • your right - landing on Mars was really easy, how silly of me to minimize the enormous complexity of putting a small robot somewhere that 12 men have walked on 41 years ago

        • Man did it. This time, it is a fully automated system that has to do this. There is a HUGE difference. And Mars has been all about physics. Simple parachutes. Though MSL is about to be the first system that this is not true.
          • 'Simple Parachutes'

            I don't think that word means what you think it means. From the Wikipedia article on the Rovers:

            The 2003 parachute design was part of a long-term Mars parachute technology development effort and is based on the designs and experience of the Viking and Pathfinder missions. The parachute for this mission is 40% larger than Pathfinder's because the largest load for the Mars Exploration Rover is 80 to 85 kilonewtons (kN) or 18,000 to 19,000 lbf (85 kN) when the parachute fully inflates. By

            • Well, you are right. That was a rant. The fact is, that landing under power, vs. landing via parachutes are RADICALLY different in level of technology required. Now, parachutes have been around for over 5 centuries. We have loads of time to figure these out. That does not mean that the new ones did not require some interesting new tech.

              OTH, the use of rockets to provide thrust from which to land has been around for about 50 years. Which idea is simpler? Parachutes. Which Idea has been around longer and ha
  • I can see engineers and scientists loving the challenge of this project and others to come. The human spirit is always in need of a challenge to bring out the best in everyone. I think this is a terrificly exciting thing they're doing.
  • by jrife0 (1836668)
    Cool my physics teacher works for Armadillo Aerospace :D
  • by NReitzel (77941) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @04:14PM (#32787792) Homepage

    With the mandated end of NASA's old, tired, bureaucratic programs, all the desk jockey administrators are out looking for a better free ride. Who knows, maybe they'll go to Wall Street.

    In any event, NASA is being left with a bunch of frustrated old farts who were then, and are now, Engineers (capital "E" on purpose). When you turn Engineers loose, and don't saddle them with endless paperwork, they start thinking up things.

    And sometimes these things are total disasters. That's the way engineering works.

    And then, sometimes these ideas are completely and totally brilliant. "Hey, Joe, what if we take this soggy wheat, grind it up, and bake it into loaves?"

    Never forget NASA's greatest disasters were predicated upon management overruling their own engineers. "Too cold to launch? Don't be Silly." "We had a meeting and decided that that big chunk of ice didn't cause any damage, so why should we ask the military to photograph it?"

    If we fired 80% of NASA's management, we might have a Space Agency back. You know, people who do jaw dropping things, as opposed to people who print nice glossy viewgraphs of hypothetical jaw dropping things. Just consider, if the Russians hadn't launched the first ISS module, NASA would likely still have an Origami space station -- all paper and cleverness.

    • by QuantumG (50515) *

      Although I'm sure that's a popular diagnosis, I think I prefer the complete lack of leadership thesis. Why is it so difficult to take some of the fantastic study work that is done at NASA and elsewhere and turn it into public policy? For example, why is it so hard to say that NASA needs to go further into space, beyond the Earth-Moon system and demonstrate that humanity has the technology to colonize the solar system? Why is it so hard for our political leadership to understand that punting on the return

    • Never forget NASA's greatest disasters were predicated upon management overruling their own engineers.

      Well, no, not exactly.

      "Too cold to launch? Don't be Silly."

      Actually - it went more like this: "Too cold to launch? Bad O-rings? You've been telling us for nearly a decade that the O-rings were safe. Why should we believe you now?" [Sound of crickets chirping while the engineers fade into the woodwork rather than try to explain the sudden change in their position.]

      "We had a meeting and d

  • I think it's pretty funny that they mention Draper Labs was "the lab responsible for creating the original Apollo Guidance Computer", and seem to think that is a positive thing.

    Doesn't anybody remember that it failed ? The Eagle has to be set down by hand.
    • "had to be" damned typos.
    • Who said it failed? That was a choice. It didn't have an extensive sensor net to detect obstacles, that's why it needed to be manually adjusted. Hard to beat a Mark 1 Eyeball. And even then, a fair fraction of it was working - attitude hold, altitude rate hold, etc, were all automatic functions.

      • That's not entirely true. It DID fail. Sure, a "fair fraction" of its functions were still working, but as it turned out, it simply wasn't capable of performing all the functions it was assigned, under live circumstances, at the same time. It was literally INCAPABLE of doing so, because of inadequacies in its design... the kind of inadequacies that should have been found in testing and QA long before it was ever actually put into use.

        The fact that the chosen spot was rocky was not the reason the decision
        • I think the "it just FAILED" assessment is a little simplistic. The AGC worked fine in all other mission phases and it was a systematic absence of testing the actual landing radar in Apollo 11 (they tested in a different mode in simulation without real hardware) that was the issue during descent. Chalk another one up to complex components leading to unexpected behaviors when integrated in the wild. In any event, the reason ALHAT and precision autonomous landing are technology efforts is because no one h
      • To clarify what I mean: certainly, it did not cease functioning. But it could not do the job it was supposed to be designed to do. That is a FAIL.
    • It worked fine during the subsequent five Apollo missions, so whatever.

    • The computer did not in any way fail. Due to an unexpected configuration of the radar systems that was not tested on the ground, it became overloaded during the landing process. The LM AGC then functioned as designed, dropping or postponing low priority tasks (like updating displays) to stay responsive to more critical ones (such as controlling the craft) and giving 1201 and 1202 alarms, which an engineer on Earth recognized as being safe to ignore.

      The LM AGC was never intended to land the craft on the surf

You know, the difference between this company and the Titanic is that the Titanic had paying customers.

Working...