: Photo: Ingrid Barrentine/Wired.comBefore you can take your rover to the moon, you need to test it on Earth.
This week, NASA engineers did just that at Grant County ORV Park in MosesLake, Washington, which they chose for its similarity to the moon's terrain.
As NASA takes its first steps to establish a permanent lunar outpost -- the first step in a journey that will eventually take humans to Mars -- testing like this will be critical to the safety and success of its missions. It's been almost 36 years since humans were last on the moon, and under Project Constellation
the next journey is planned for 2020. It may seem a long way off, but the timeline is short, given the work that needs to be done for such a monumental task.
Included in the tests were lunar rovers, robots, space suits and shelters. Click through the gallery to see this previously untested equipment in action. Take away the clouds and sky, and you can almost imagine how the actual mission will look.
Adrian Emry, 7, of Moses Lake, gives a thumbs-up sign to NASA engineer Bill Welch after wrapping up a day of lunar-related experiments.
: Photo: Ingrid Barrentine/Wired.comThe NASA Autonomous Drilling Rover (Scarab) navigates a crater. The rover was built by Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute and is designed to drill up to a meter into the moon's polar regions.
This design won't actually be traveling to the moon, but it's an intermediary model for a future design that will. A drilling rover must be lightweight to conserve power but also strong enough to drill through the lunar rock (regolith).
: Photo: Ingrid Barrentine/Wired.comThe NASA ATHLETE (All-Terrain Hex-Legged Extra-Terrestrial Explorer) Rover is stated to be the vehicle of choice for future lunar explorers. The robot comprises a base and legs below an interchangeable cabin, which is mounted on top. The legs are quite versatile: They can walk across rocky terrain, step up ledges, lift payloads, drill and perform assembly tasks.
: Photo: Ingrid Barrentine/Wired.comATHLETE rovers can even work together to lift heavy objects with their well-articulated legs.
: Photo: Ingrid Barrentine/Wired.comThe ATHLETE's legs can also collapse entirely, gently lowering their payload to the moon's surface.
: Photo: Ingrid Barrentine/Wired.comThe NASA Lunar Crane is designed to be a lifting- and precision-positioning device to give astronauts a hand during early lunar outpost construction.
: Photo: Ingrid Barrentine/Wired.comNASA engineers Bill Welch, left, and Kevin Groenman watch the K10 robot from the Crew Mobility Chassis during a test. The astronauts' perches can pivot 360 degrees providing the operators an excellent view of the surrounding landscape.
: Photo: Ingrid Barrentine/Wired.comIn order to keep the Crew Mobility Chassis from becoming stuck in lunar dust or barreling straight down a steep crater, each set of wheels on the truck can pivot individually in any direction. The vehicle can drive sideways, forward, backward and any direction in between, allowing it to zigzag down hills and parallel park at docking stations.
: Photo: Ingrid Barrentine/Wired.comNASA engineer Bill Welch takes a moment to walk around the Crew Mobility Chassis and stretch.
: Photo: Ingrid Barrentine/Wired.comNASA engineer Kevin Groenman photographs a test.
: Photo: Ingrid Barrentine/Wired.comNASA engineer Kevin Groenman's visor reflects the control panel on the Crew Mobility Chassis.
: Photo: Ingrid Barrentine/Wired.comNASA engineers Bill Welch, left, and Kevin Groenman discuss operations during a test on the sand dunes.
: Photo: Ingrid Barrentine/Wired.comThe NASA K10 lunar robot surveys simulated lunar landing sites. The robot runs on Red Hat Linux and performs highly repetitive, long-duration tasks such as site mapping and science reconnaissance that would be difficult for a human crew to conduct manually.
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