NASA is developing a six-legged robot that can walk or roll on wheels, and ultimately aims to have it help set up a habitat on Mars for future astronauts. The robot, called Athlete, has been a work in progress for the past five years at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says NASA's Brian Wilcox. The robot is designed to move easily across the various types of terrain on the moon, on Mars, or even on an asteroid.
The hexagonal machine stands about 10 feet off the ground when its legs are fully extended. It can step over a 10-foot wall and is designed to carry payloads of more than 14.5 tons on Mars. "Athlete is being designed for the moon or Mars—really any terrestrial body that has moderate gravity," says Wilcox. NASA expects Athlete to be ready for a robotic mission to Mars by 2015.
Two or three pairs of Athlete robots should be working on Mars before astronauts arrive there, says Wilcox. Athlete also is designed to work alongside the 300-pound Robonaut robot that is scheduled to be carried to the International Space Station aboard the NASA space shuttle Discovery in September.
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