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NASA Moon Robotics Software Space Science Hardware

NASA Tests Hardware, Software On Armadillo Rocket 108

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."
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NASA Tests Hardware, Software On Armadillo Rocket

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  • Why humanoid? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by GSV Eat Me Reality ( 1845852 ) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @09:22AM (#32785232)
    Surely there are designs that can meet the demands of the environment better than the human form.
  • 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.

  • 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:Why humanoid? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Saturday July 03, 2010 @09:49AM (#32785390) Homepage Journal

    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:3, Insightful)

    by khallow ( 566160 ) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @09:49AM (#32785394)
    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 Low Ranked Craig ( 1327799 ) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @09:57AM (#32785424)
    Of course it's not... now. You still have to be pretty smart to understand all the physics involved, but it's one thing to have to create all that stuff from nothing via experimentation, and another to be fortunate enough to have the existing body of work to build upon.
  • 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.
  • Re:Why humanoid? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ch-chuck ( 9622 ) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @10:03AM (#32785462) Homepage

    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.

  • 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?

  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @10:22AM (#32785564) Journal
    Yes, Obama is all about killing NASA. In his first year, he bumped up the budget 2 billion. He has taken NASA back to its roots of doing the RD and advanced systems that private companies do not want to do. And he has focused NASA on doing the ground work for monster projects; Such as a fuel depot. Or an inflatable Space Station (lowering costs a great deal, and increasing safety). Automated docking for the fuel depot. Multiple types of space-rated engines;

    OTH, W bumped the budget in 2006, while pushing a nightmare system starting in 2004.
  • Re:Why humanoid? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Patch86 ( 1465427 ) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @10:58AM (#32785810)

    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 vacuum cleaner and a pair of binoculars.

  • 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?
  • Re:Why humanoid? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @01:20PM (#32786736) Homepage Journal

    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 nutrition requirements vs. our physical output, we have not evolved to work on a Moon. I am not saying hexapod is the best at everything, I am saying that being a biped on a Moon for a robot may not at all be useful for many situation except as in testing ground for human habitat or because humans and robots should share some habitat/living quarters, which also begs the question: why do that?

  • Re:Why humanoid? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dragoniz3r ( 992309 ) on Saturday July 03, 2010 @02:06PM (#32787040)
    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 having been designed around the human form. It will have a few dedicated appendages.
    I can't decide if you're a troll or not, but the debate here is about method of locomotion. The chassis we put our probes in isn't the point. Whether it's humanoid, a rover, or shaped like a box, the significant differentiating factor is how it gets around. Look at the state of humanoid robots here on earth. What makes you think they'd work any better on a relatively uncontrolled, chaotic surface like the moon's? Guess what? The moon isn't going to have even floors and nice staircases!
  • 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.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling