Slideshow: Next Stop, The Moon

At a field test in Washington state, NASA's lunar robots go for a spin

PHOTO: Sean Smith/NASA

LUNAR LANDING

In June, research teams from seven NASA centers gathered at Moses Lake, in central Washington state, to test out prototypes for new moon-worthy robots, vehicles, and pressurized space suits. The field test is part of the space agency's preparation for its eventual return to the moon at the end of the next decade.

For more on NASA moon technology, see NASA Touches Down In Moses Lake

PHOTO: Carnegie Mellon University

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory's ATHLETE (for All-Terrain Hex-Legged Extra-Terrestrial Explorer) is a six-legged robot that rolls on its wheels when on hard terrain. In softer terrain, the wheels can be locked so that the robot can walk.

For more on NASA moon technology, see NASA Touches Down In Moses Lake

PHOTO: Carnegie Mellon University

HEAVY LIFTING

ATHLETE can carry a payload of up to 450 kilograms on its flat, hexagonal platform. Here, the robot totes a mockup of a lunar habitat. The version of ATHLETE that NASA would use on the moon would be much bigger, handling payloads of up to 18 metric tons.

For more on NASA moon technology, see NASA Touches Down In Moses Lake

PHOTO: Carnegie Mellon University

SERIOUS ALL-WHEEL DRIVE

Chariot, built by the Johnson Space Center, has six double wheels, each of which can pivot independently, allowing the vehicle to move sideways, forward, backward, and any direction in between.

For more on NASA moon technology, see NASA Touches Down In Moses Lake

PHOTO: Sean Smith/NASA

BEST VIEW EVER

Designed to carry four suited astronauts, Chariot has perches that pivot 360 degrees, like the turret on a tank, so that its driver and passengers always have a good view. But what's with the camera on a string?

For more on NASA moon technology, see NASA Touches Down In Moses Lake

PHOTO: Sean Smith/NASA

MOON DOZER

Chariot can be fitted with a bulldozer blade, which allows it to do things like clearing the ground at a lunar outpost. When NASA returns to the moon in 2018 or thereabouts, the agency plans to set up long-term facilities to house equipment and astronauts.

For more on NASA moon technology, see NASA Touches Down In Moses Lake

PHOTO: Sean Smith/NASA

SO MANIPULATIVE!

The thing that looks like a skinny crane is called the Lunar Surface Manipulation System, which is used to load and unload lunar landers like ATHLETE. Human wranglers at Moses Lake had to keep the payload--a mockup of an air-lock module--from swaying in the high wind, something lunar teams presumably won't have to worry about.

For more on NASA moon technology, see NASA Touches Down In Moses Lake

PHOTO: Sean Smith/NASA

DRILL TEAM

The Scarab rover, built by Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, is designed for long, slow traverses and carries a 1-meter-long drill for taking geological samples.

For more on NASA moon technology, see NASA Touches Down In Moses Lake

PHOTO: Carnegie Mellon University

UNDER THE HOOD

With the cover and wheels removed, it's easier to see Scarab's transforming chassis, which lets the robot lie down on the ground to stabilize its drill and also lets it position itself for ascending and descending slopes.

For more on NASA moon technology, see NASA Touches Down In Moses Lake

PHOTO: Sean Smith/NASA

MOBILE DRONE

The K10 planetary rover, developed by the Intelligent Robotics Group at the NASA Ames Research Center, is designed for tasks that humans would find too tedious, like site mapping and science reconnaissance. A little bigger than a lawnmower, the K10 can be equipped with ground-penetrating radar to image underground layers and a three-dimensional scanning laser for mapping topography.

For more on NASA moon technology, see NASA Touches Down In Moses Lake

PHOTO: Carnegie Mellon University

DUNE BUGGIES

NASA selected Moses Lake because its loose sand and rock and treeless horizon roughly simulate the lunar surface. But the area's 1200 hectares of sand dunes are also popular with the off-road crowd.

For more on NASA moon technology, see NASA Touches Down In Moses Lake

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