Build a Robot to Dig the Most Moon Dirt!

Posted 20 Sep 2005 at 20:34 UTC by The Swirling Brain Share This

NASA announced in Toronto this week a contest launched in search of a robot that can dig the most lunar dirt. "They bring in their rovers and each get 30 minutes in the sandbox." The prize is $250,000US for these basic contest rules: "The machine that autonomously excavates and delivers the most lunar soil simulant to a collection point in 30 minutes wins the purse." The contest will take place in the fall of 2006 or spring of 2007 in California. I guess they found a great device for turning moon dirt into oxygen, now they just need a robot that can deliver that dirt! No doubt this is all part of the new $104 billion back to the moon plan that NASA recently unveiled.

Workin' on a moon mine, goin' down down down, posted 22 Sep 2005 at 13:37 UTC by jeffkoenig » (Master)

Soil Simulant? You mean they'll be using fake dirt? What could possibly be cheaper than dirt?

It looks like they want one of those Terran SCV's from "Starcraft".

not just any old soil..., posted 22 Sep 2005 at 14:29 UTC by dogsbody_d » (Master)

It's not that it's simulating dirt. It's simulating lunar regolith. MOON DIRT. The production of it was also the subject research and development. There was a workshop on it in January.

When I looked yesterday, there seemed to be precious little in the way of actual detail for the competition, but they were clear about the dirt. It's as fine as talcum powder, but heavily compacted.

Oh...moon dirt..., posted 22 Sep 2005 at 17:28 UTC by jeffkoenig » (Master)

Compacted talcum powder, huh?

In that case, I'd think along the lines of a motorized needle or jackhammer to powderize it, then I could suck it up with a vacuum

Oh yeah, MOON. Nevermind...

I could leave the glass sleeves off of the thermionic devices I'd use for the electronics, though.

meanwhile..., posted 22 Sep 2005 at 18:30 UTC by dogsbody_d » (Master)

I really hate a lot of people. Particularly smart-asses on Slashdot who think that they are sooooo clever and could solve any problem in the world if they could be bothered. There are several posts over there that do suggest using roombas or whatever. Or that say "um SHOVEL!" as if having a guy in a spacesuit is anywhere near as sustainable over a period of months. Unless you have a spacesuit that regenerates air using solar power or something.

The joy of the competition idea is that anyone* who thinks they know best can just knock up their idea and show the rest of us what idiots we are. Grrr. Posts that start "It's obvious to me that....."

Same was true with robot wars. Backseat roboticists. Grrrrr X 2

*anyone American that is. Grrrr X 3!

hang on, posted 23 Sep 2005 at 13:59 UTC by dogsbody_d » (Master)

I hope you don't think that I was being mean in my above post! Everyone round here appreciates the problems and advantages of robots. (Plus the need for air to operate vacuum cleaners).

Furthermore, I quite like your needle-driver approach. The trouble is though, that without the full competition specs, including the soil, we are all a bit in the dark I guess. Other than we assume that they're more interested in the collected regolith than the shape of the hole...

No offence taken!, posted 23 Sep 2005 at 14:20 UTC by jeffkoenig » (Master)

We're all friends here.

My two posts were indeed meant to be more humorous than informative, though.

I've now been thinking seriously about the problem - how to collect what may be a powdery or chalky substance in a reduced-gravity, zero atmosphere environment, where dead reckoning and odometry may be compromised due to the roughness of the terrain. As of this time, we have no Moon GPS, (MPS?) either. And I'm thinking there would be more than one of these moon-miners working at once.

I'll sign off with a Slashdot cliche: "I welcome our new moon dirt gathering robotic overlords"


No gravity, no air, no problem!, posted 23 Sep 2005 at 14:32 UTC by The Swirling Brain » (Master)

The thing that's interesting is that the moon environment is not what/where the contest will be testing in but rather in California. I'm sure that considering whether the robot would actually work in such an environment would be a consideration, tho. So if you don't have gravity and you don't have air (for suction), I guess you're design would have to rely heavily on how to push/sling the dirt around?

I need a sample of moon dirt, posted 23 Sep 2005 at 20:07 UTC by ROB.T. » (Master)

Dogsbody - I for one was laughing; and I agree - we are all good friends here.

I think I need a sample of this "Synthetic Moon Dirt" (SMD) to determine what kind of digger needs to be on the robot.

moon rocks, posted 23 Sep 2005 at 20:25 UTC by steve » (Master)

I saw a news item last night on what steps NASA was taking to protect their real moon rocks from huricane Rita. Apparently they store a lot of them at the Houston facility.

Hooray!, posted 26 Sep 2005 at 10:24 UTC by dogsbody_d » (Master)

Yeah, I didn't think anyone would really take offense, bu I didn't want y'all to think I was being mean ;)

Oh it turns out that the moon might have an atmosphere, depending on your definition. The rocks give off gas, but most of it does escape. Even so, it's a bit like there being some alcohol in alcohol-free beer IYSWIM...

Anyhoo, while I think that the solutions developed on Earth will work on the moon, it does seem unlikely that they will be able to exploit the lunar circumstances, like the pressure and gravity.

So what we need is a real lunar laboratory!

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