U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) engineers are developing a team of robotic rovers that might eventually work alongside astronauts on Mars. "We're working on a new use of these robots—robots to support human exploration," says NASA intelligent robotics group director Terry Fong. The next-generation robotic rovers could arrive on the moon or on an asteroid within 10 years, Fong says.
Two robotic rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, are currently exploring the surface of Mars. The rovers are among the most advanced technology ever built by NASA, says NASA scientist Bruce Banerdt. The agency is currently working on another robotic rover, called Curiosity, that is slated to be sent to Mars in 2011. Curiosity is an SUV-size super rover equipped with cameras, chemistry instruments, environmental sensors, and radiation monitors. "We're trying to understand, if we're sending humans to the moon or someplace else in the solar system, what's needed to build those robots," Fong says.
Software development is crucial to the robot development effort. The rovers will need software to help them deal with frequently changing directions, coming from both mission control on Earth and from astronauts working alongside them.
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