Astronaut In Space Drives Robot on Earth, a First

SPACE.com
Astronaut In Space Drives Robot on Earth, a First
.

View gallery

NASA transformed the International Space Station into a command center for a robot on Earth this month for a first-of-its-kind test drive of the technology and skills needed to remotely operate robots on the moon, Mars or an asteroid.

During the June 17 space technology test, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, a space station flight engineer, remotely controlled a K10 rover at the agency's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. The robot was commanded to simulate deploying a polyimide-film antenna in a specially built "Roverscape" at the NASA center.

On the space station, Cassidy received telemetry and real-time video from the rover and monitored the robot's reaction to his commands via virtual terrain displays. [See photos of NASA's K10 rover being controlled from space]

"We successfully conducted the first 'surface telerobotics' test session with the International Space Station," said Terry Fong, director of the Intelligent Robotics Group at Ames. "Cassidy used K10 to perform a surface site survey and to begin deploying a simulated Kapton film-based radio antenna."

When astronauts and robots team up

Fong said follow-up test sessions between rover and the space station will be conducted in late July and early August. Those sessions will focus on completing antenna deployment, inspecting the deployment and studying human-robot interaction.

"We're still finalizing the date of the next test session but anticipate that it will be sometime during the week of July 22," Fong told SPACE.com.

The technology demonstrations will also investigate how communication delays over large distances could influence an astronaut's aptitude to take supervisory control of a robot in the event the machinery finds itself in trouble or unable to move.

Fong was bullish on the rover/space station linkup. The test session, he said, was notable for achieving a number of firsts, including the following:

  • The first real-time teleoperation of a planetary rover from the space station.
  • The first real-time supervisory control of a planetary rover from the station.
  • The first astronaut to interactively control a high-fidelity planetary rover in an outdoor planetary analog.
  • The first use of space station and NASA data networks to connect a crew member's laptop computer to an outdoor robot.
  • The first use of the NASA RAPID robot messaging system to control a robot from space.

Proving ground for future missions

The test is the first high-fidelity simulation of a human-robot "waypoint" mission — an Earth-moon L2 lunar far side telescope deployment concept proposed by experts at the University of Colorado, Boulder and Lockheed Martin, builder of the NASA Orion spacecraft.

"It was a great success … and the team was thrilled with how smoothly everything went," said Jack Burns, director of the NASA Lunar Science Institute's Lunar University Network for Astrophysics Research, a NASA-funded center at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

The K10 rover deployed two 'arms' of Kapton film under the command of astronaut Cassidy, Burns said.

Burns is a leading advocate of a proposed piloted mission to the Earth-moon L2 position, from which astronauts within an Orion spacecraft would remotely unfurl a low-radio-frequency antenna on the moon's farside.

In the future, we plan such a deployment on the far side of the moon, where the Kapton film will be the backbone for a low-frequency radio telescope,” Burns told SPACE.com.

Once deployed on the lunar landscape, Burns said, an array of unfurled polyimide film could track down the "cosmic dawn" of the universe that occurred shortly after the Big Bang. The moon's farside is a radio-quiet locale in the inner solar system, allowing for sensitive observations of the first stars and galaxies that formed only 100 million years after the Big Bang, he said.

Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is former director of research for the National Commission on Space and is co-author of Buzz Aldrin's new book, "Mission to Mars – My Vision for Space Exploration," published by National Geographic. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on SPACE.com.

Copyright 2013 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
View Comments (24)

Recommended for You

  • Republicans warn world that Obama U.N. plan could be undone

    By Valerie Volcovici WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration's plan for U.N. climate change talks encountered swift opposition after its release Tuesday, with Republican leaders warning other countries to "proceed with caution" in negotiations with Washington because any deal could be…

    Reuters
  • California getting 'second-hand smog' from Asia, researchers say

    By Sharon Bernstein SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - California is suffering from "second-hand smog" drifting in from Asia and other places, researchers said on Tuesday, even as the state's prolonged drought has made air quality worse. About 10 percent of ozone pollution, the main ingredient in…

    Reuters
  • Hurricane-strength winds pummel Europe, four killed

    By Michael Hogan HAMBURG (Reuters) - At least four people were killed on Tuesday when hurricane-force winds lashed northern Europe in one of the most severe storms in years, forcing flights to be canceled and disrupting road, train and marine traffic. The Dutch meteorological office issued a red…

    Reuters
  • United States sets official strategy for Paris climate talks

    By Valerie Volcovici WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Tuesday published plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions up to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, part of a strategy to generate momentum for a global agreement later this year on combating climate change. The formal…

    Reuters
  • Air and sea traffic disrupted as 120 km winds batter Netherlands

    Spring storms battered the Netherlands with gusts of up to 120 kilometers an hour on Tuesday, causing Amsterdam's Schiphol airport to cancel flights and the closure of two container terminals at the port of Rotterdam. Gale force winds sweeping in from the North Sea disrupted land and marine…

    Reuters
  • A New Awesome Photo Contest - Win Today

    Win cash, cameras and be published. Over $10,000 in prizes! Weekly winners announced.

    AdChoicesViewBugSponsored
  • Heavy rains trigger flood fears in Kashmir; 17 dead

    By Fayaz Bukhari SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - Heavy rains and a landslide in the Himalayan region of Kashmir killed 17 people, police said on Tuesday, as Indian authorities continued working to rescue stranded villagers, with unseasonal rains raising fears of flash floods in the mountainous north. …

    Reuters
  • Ocean warming suggests 50 percent chance of El Nino-Australia

    By Colin Packham SYDNEY (Reuters) - Recent warming of the Pacific Ocean may signal an El Nino weather event is forming, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said on Tuesday. Climate models indicate the central tropical Pacific Ocean is likely to continue to warm, with El Nino thresholds to be…

    Reuters
  • Vanuatu risks long-term food insecurity after monster cyclone: U.N.

    By Alisa Tang BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The monster cyclone that hit Vanuatu earlier this month wiped out more than 90 percent of the archipelago's crops, putting its people at risk of a secondary emergency and long-term food insecurity, the United Nations warned on Monday. Tropical…

    Reuters
  • Heavy rains trigger flood fears in Kashmir; six dead

    By Fayaz Bukhari SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - A landslide in the Himalayan region of Kashmir killed six people and left 10 missing, police said on Monday, as unseasonal rains swept India, damaging crops and raising fears of flash floods in the mountainous north. Hundreds of people fled their homes…

    Reuters
  • Harsh weather cripples fishing and tourism on Cameroon's coast

    By Elias Ntungwe Ngalame KRIBI, Cameroon (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - For over 15 years, Raoul Meno has been fishing the waters off the coastal town of Kribi in southern Cameroon. A bout of persistent heavy rains and surging tides this year has made fishing in Kribi increasingly difficult and…

    Reuters
  • Air Canada plane landed short, hit antennas in Halifax accident

    By Mark Blinch HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (Reuters) - An Air Canada plane that suffered heavy damage in an accident in the east coast city of Halifax on Sunday landed short of the runway and hit an antenna array, losing its landing gear, safety officials said. "They touched down 1,100 feet (335 meters)…

    Reuters
  • U.S. to submit plans to fight global warming; most others delay

    By Alister Doyle and Valerie Volcovici OSLO/WASHINGTON - The United States will submit plans for slowing global warming to the United Nations early this week but most governments will miss an informal March 31 deadline, complicating work on a global climate deal due in December. The U.S.…

    Reuters
  • Modi's popularity in rural India punctured by discontent, suicides

    By Mayank Bhardwaj VAIDI, India (Reuters) - Over a dozen debt-laden farmers have committed suicide in recent weeks in India, and discontent in many rural areas against government policies is turning into anger against Prime Minister Narendra Modi less than a year after he swept into office. …

    Reuters
  • Chile desert rains sign of climate change: chief weather scientist

    By Rosalba O'Brien SANTIAGO (Reuters) - The heavy rainfall that battered Chile's usually arid north this week happened because of climate change, a senior meteorologist said, as the region gradually returns to normal after rivers broke banks and villages were cut off. "For Chile, this particular…

    Reuters
  • Mexico unveils national strategy for Paris climate talks

    By Valerie Volcovici WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Mexico on Friday said it will cap its greenhouse gas emissions by 2026, becoming one of the first countries to formally submit its national climate plan to the United Nations ahead of a climate summit in Paris in December. Mexico's Foreign and…

    Reuters
  • Fed must take account of global economy in U.S. outlook: Yellen

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve must take the global economy into account when judging the U.S. domestic outlook, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Friday, noting that a stronger dollar buoyed by weakness abroad may restrain U.S. exports Still, she added, U.S. consumer…

    Reuters
  • In reversal, crash-hit Lufthansa agrees to two-crew in cockpit rule

    Lufthansa said on Friday it would introduce new rules requiring two crew members in cockpits at all times, a swift reversal after its CEO said such a change was not needed despite the crash at its Germanwings subsidiary. The European Union said it would now advise all EU airlines to require two…

    Reuters
  • Sierra Leone capital 'eerily quiet' amid Ebola lockdown

    By Umaru Fofana FREETOWN (Reuters) - The capital of Sierra Leone was "eerily quiet" on Friday at the start of a three-day national lockdown aimed at accelerating the end of an Ebola epidemic in the worst affected country. Liberia has just one known case left and the three countries have set a…

    Reuters
  • Lufthansa to toughen up cockpit rules

    Lufthansa said it will introduce new rules requiring two crew members to be in the cockpit at all times after one of the pilots at its Germanwings unit crashed a plane in the French Alps. Prosecutors believe Andreas Lubitz, 27, locked himself alone in the cockpit of the Airbus A320 on Tuesday and…

    Reuters
  • Poland to charge two Russian officials over Kaczynski plane crash

    Poland said on Friday it would bring charges against two Russian air traffic controllers over a 2010 plane crash which killed then Polish president Lech Kaczynski, a move likely to damage bilateral relations already strained by the Ukraine crisis. Prosecutor Ireneusz Szelag from the District…

    Reuters