Every year the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has a tough task, it must convince the taxpayers in the United States that space science is worth $16.25 billion/year. To do this, the agency engages in a comprehensive public-relations campaign similar to those of America's largest corporations. In the 21st century, NASA started advertising its project by showcasing entertaining graphics and compelling human characters. Every launch of the space shuttle generates a lot of media attention. Even when their achievements in space are no longer remarkable, NASA portrays its astronauts as ready-made heroes.
Nonetheless, NASA sends robots to explore space because of not having to worry about their safety. It is also considerably less expensive to send a robot to space than it is to send a human. Robots do not require food, sleep, or restroom breaks. They can exist in space for a long time and can be left there without having to return! The Pathfinder rover has been scouring the surface of Mars in recent years, and the Galileo spacecraft has been surveying Jupiter and its moons. Images of the early stages of creation are being returned by the Hubble Space Telescope and other orbital observatories. However, those are only a few of the most well-known robots. Engineers at NASA are constantly developing new robots.
A-PUFFER, which stands for Autonomous Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robot, is the name given to one of the most recent robots. The origami designs that inspired this lightweight, two-wheeled adventurer to inspect confined spaces, the A- PUFFER can flatten itself out and duck down. BRUIE, the Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration, is another robot. While taking images and gathering data, this robot can float in the water and roll its wheels down the underside of an icy surface. Scientists want to utilize a robot like this in the future to look for indications of life on frozen bodies around the solar system. The subsurface oceans of Jupiter's moon Europa or Saturn's moon Enceladus, for example.
Is it true that all of NASA's robots are rovers?
Nope! Take a peek at this Hedgehog robot.
Figure 1: The Hedgehog Robot (Courtesy- Nasa.gov)
NASA is collaborating with Stanford University and MIT to develop this spiky cube robot. Hedgehog was created to investigate tiny things like asteroids and comets. There is relatively little gravity in these, and the landscape is exceedingly harsh. Hedgehog leaps and tumbles instead of rolling. What if it lands on its side? It's not a huge deal. It has the ability to operate on any of its four sides. It could even extricate itself out of a deep crater by launching itself into the air in a tornado-like move.
Is NASA working on any human-like robots?
Yes, indeed! Humanoid robots are what they're called. For some tasks, a robot that moves more like a human might be the ideal option. For example, a humanoid robot could assist in the planning of a future human community on Mars. R5, or Valkyrie, is a robot created by NASA's Johnson Space Center with such objectives in mind. Cameras, sensors, a slew of motors, and two computers power this electric robot. R5 can use these tools to navigate its environment and move like a human. Robots play an important role in space exploration, whether they are walking, tumbling, flying, or rolling.
FOR THE TIME BEING, NASA appears to be determined to keep its human spaceflight program going, no matter what it takes. However, the space agency may discover in the next decade that engaging stories can be told without the use of human beings. Mars Pathfinder demonstrated that an unmanned mission may be as exciting to the public as a shuttle voyage. In one year, the Pathfinder website received 720 million hits. Maybe robots can be heroes after all.