Mars Colonization: NASA’s Valkyrie And Origami-Inspired Robots Are Shaping The Way

Posted: Mar 21 2017, 8:14am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
Mars Colonization: NASA’s Valkyrie and Origami-Inspired Robots are Shaping the Way
Credit: NASA
  • How robots are shaping the way for Mars colonization?

Although the Valkyrie (R5) robot is never going to set foot on Mars the humanoid space robot created is a glimpse into the future. The sophisticated machinery, six-foot tall 290-pounds, robot was created by NASA in 2015 specifically for missions on Mars worth an astounding $2 million. The R5 can even be considered the first step in the quest to form a human colony on Mars. The Valkyrie (R5) robots were originally designed and built by the Johnson Space Center Engineering Directorate as part of the 2013 DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials. The robot is entirely electric battery powered robot and is being worked on to make it capable of operating in degraded or damaged environments like Mars. The name Valkyrie was derived from Norse mythology in which Odin's ethereal maidens chose the slain from the battlefield for entry into Valhalla.

Space Robotics Challenge

Four units of the R5 were created by NASA for future Mars missions. One of them can be seen tethered to the ceiling of a warehouse in Massachusetts. Whereas one was kept by NASA, while one was given as a research loans to Northeastern University and MIT, and the fourth and last robot went to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. All three institutions working on the robot will face off against each other at the NASA Space Robotics Challenge. The winner will win a prize worth $1 million after they are able to improve the capabilities of the robot on Mars environment. The challenge supposes if a dust storm arises on Mars then how the humanoid robot will respond. The winning team will have to prove the Valkyrie R5 will be able to effectively and efficiently repair the damage. Especially the setting of the solar panel and alignment of the communication antenna will be demonstrated successfully by the winner.

Valkyrie at Northeastern

One of the R5 robots given to the Northeastern was aimed to help NASA in testing hardware for its Space Robotics Challenge. The aim of the program is to prepare NASA for crucial task of setting up the hostile Martian colony. The testing will allow Valkyrie’s successors to better adapt to Martian terrain. According to Murphy Wonsick, a PhD student at Northeastern, NASA had already done a good job on all the hardware of the robot.

But they are going to improve its capabilities so the robot will not only be able to move but make autonomous decisions and implement them. Currently the robot lies at the Northeastern NERVE (New England Robotics Validation and Experimentation) Center. According to Northeastern the environment is ideal for testing Valkyrie’s on-board vision systems.

Buzz Aldrin’s Mars VR

Buzz Aldrin just released a new virtual-reality experience for Life. The experience called Buzz Aldrin’s Cycling Pathways to Mars premiered on Tuesday at the South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. The VR details how humans can reach Mars in just a few decades through travelling around orbit cycles.

PUFFER

Valkyrie is not the only robot by NASA being honed for future Mars expeditions. The Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robot (PUFFER) is currently in development at the NASA. It is being developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The lightweight PUFFER has a design capable of flattening itself. Simultaneously it can also tuck in its wheels and crawl into places where other large rovers can't.Its no surprise the PUFFER robot was inspired by an origami design. Since last year PUFFER is being tested at a variety of rugged terrains such as the Mojave Desert in California and the hills of Antarctica. PUFFER was created specifically to explore terrains deemed too wild or untamed for human exploration. PUFFER can skitter up 45-degree slopes and can even drop inside pits or craters. Small PUFFER micro-bots will also be assistants to a large robot companion and they might stack atop one another to make it.

PUFFER has also gone through field testing for Mars at the Rainbow Basin, California, which resembles the sedimentary rock slopes of the Red Planet. The testing showed PUFFER can drive about 2,050 feet only on a single battery charge. The team at NASA JPL is trying to further make PUFFER a better companion for Mars. The robot is being worked on to add instruments for water or organic material sampling. A spectrometer could also be added to study the chemical makeup of the surrounding environment. The robot is also being made with Mars compatible material and the team is hopeful PUFFER will end up on a near mission.

Are humans ready for Mars?

Technically reaching and colonizing Mars may be seeming possible. But are humans physiologically ready to set foot on Mars? According to a new paper by cognitive scientist Konrad Szocik, humans are not ready. Although astronauts are being trained for Mars at the International Space Station (ISS) for year-long Martian simulations it cannot prepare them for the challenges of Mars colonization.

Stimulating the same physical and environmental conditions prevalent on Mars is impossible on Earth. Especially traits like microgravitation or radiation exposure cannot be replicated. Humans would also face great physiological and psychological challenges and they may prove too difficult for survival. Similarly as the journey to mars is longer humans may be signing up for a one way ticket to Mars. It is possible they may never be able to come back to Earth as it might be impossible.

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