The goal for the next U.S. trip to the moon? Have robots arrive first.
This NASA-funded lab in Colorado is building 'bots to land on the moon's surface that will be capable of constructing high-powered telescopes, making the next moon mission a far cry from the historic Apollo 11 moon walk 50 years ago, says the lab's director Jack Burns.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) NETWORK FOR EXPLORATION AND SPACE SCIENCE DIRECTOR JACK BURNS SAYING: "This is not your grandfather's Apollo program. It's going to be undertaking new types of science and exploration that we couldn't even envision in the 1960s. It's going to involve machines and humans working together -- robots, rovers -- in which astronauts and machines will be working together for the first time."
Burns' team consists of student researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Their creation, a test robot affectionately named Armstrong, was crafted from computer parts - its arm operated by an Xbox controller.
It’s powered by two modified portable cell phone chargers.
The plan is for a robot like Armstrong to roam to the far side of the moon, where it will traverse its craggy surface -- featuring a mountain taller than any on earth -- to deploy a network of telescopes capable of looking far into the galaxy.
It’s arm would be operated remotely by astronauts aboard an orbiting lunar space station.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) KEITH TAUSCHER, PHYSICS GRADUATE STUDENT, SAYING:"It's going to be like a platform for us to start different science studies that we couldn't do from the surface of Earth. So it's really like a station where we could do a bunch of science that we thought about doing and that we've theorized that we should be able to do that we haven't been able to do yet."
The work in Boulder underscores NASA's plan to build a lasting presence on the moon, unlike the fleeting Apollo missions in the 60s and 70s, and demonstrates new capabilities for deep space observation and a jumping off point for exploration of Mars.