“Project M”? Let’s Not.

Doing for NASA what Star Wars did for sci-fi, send C3PO to the Moon! Huh?

Doing for NASA what Star Wars did for sci-fi, send C3PO to the Moon! Huh?

OK, so I have little idea about this project because there’s not much information circulating, but I hope it’s not real.

It looks like NASA’s Johnson Space Center is heading up a robotic mission to the Moon. No big surprises there as that plan is pretty much in alignment with the “Flexible Path” for the future of space exploration for the U.S. space agency. Also, now the Constellation Program has bitten the dust, we’re not going to see man return to the Moon any time soon.

So what’s the answer? Send a robot that looks like a human to the Moon instead!

As I said, there’s little information about “Project M” apart from what’s been posted on AmericaSpace:

Project M is a JSC Engineering Directorate led mission to put a lander on the moon with a robot within a 1,000 days starting Jan 1., 2010. “M” has significance in two ways. First, it is the Roman numeral for 1,000. And “M” is the first letter for “Moon”.

How is Project M different from past NASA projects?

  • No prime contractors.
  • No roadblocks.
  • Just use the best engineers in the world to get the job done on time.

There will be full press on this… including embedded media, full multimedia and social networking. Can you say “The Apprentice goes to Space?”

When will Project M begin? Next month? Next year? No, Project M has been “go” since Monday, November 9th.

But “M” is the first letter of “Missing the Point” too, but that hasn’t been mentioned.

The enthusiasm for a robotic mission to the lunar surface sounds fine and dandy, and it’s to be expected, but if they really intend to send a bipedal robotic man to the Moon within 1000 days, then NASA hasn’t learnt anything from the Constellation debacle. This smells like a publicity stunt with little to no direction and it would be a shame if serious funding is being put into it.

Could the bipedal robot just be a metaphor for the project? Possibly, but I’d have to question the common sense in doing that too.

Also, where’s the incentive (indeed urgency) to create a Manhattan Project-style group of engineers to rush this project to completion within 3 years? If the members of Project M think they can avoid the cumbersome red tape and cost overruns that NASA and its contractors have faced in the past, then great, but I don’t think that’s a reality for such an ambitious project that lacks direction.

Sure, there’s funding being ploughed into humanoid robot technology — such as the “Robonaut” that is being developed by JSC engineers and the car maker GM — but the real-world application of androids (robots designed to look and act like a human) is that they can assist human operators. Bipedal androids such as the one depicted in this promo video would be exploring (read: “picking up stones”) space by themselves. There are no humans working along side them and therefore no real reason to create them in the inefficient form of a human.

The human body isn’t exactly an optimized one for space exploration. The next robotic missions to the Moon and Mars will be rovers, with wheels, because guess what? That makes more sense than revolutionizing android technology, sending it to the Moon within 1000 days, only for it to fall over and not be able to stand back up. (I’m sure Project M would counter this argument and say that the technology would have matured to such an extent that the android would be able to stand up again, but why let it fall over at all?) The center of gravity needs to be low for stability and no matter how big you make a robot’s feet, it’s simply not going to be able to explore as efficiently as a wheeled or multi-legged all-terrain vehicle.

So, in short, I see this video as about as valuable as the ad-drawing Moon rover video. And we all know what I thought about that nonsense.

Source: NASAWatch, Universe Today

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17 responses to ““Project M”? Let’s Not.

  1. This is nuts. The only reason I can find for the implementation of something like this is to study how the human anatomy moves best at 0.15G, and I'd venture a guess that the Apollo astronauts already did that back in the 70s…Weird.

    • That's why I hope this isn't real. There's no point! I at first assumed it was an independent video, for fun, but initial reports are saying JSC is involved. This isn't a stretch as they are working on that Robonaut project (which actually makes sense), but I don't think we'll have C3PO kicking up the lunar regolith any time soon. Let's see if they put together a proper press release soon, because this video makes no sense at all.Cheers, Ian

  2. :::sigh::: Who comes up with these things, anyway? I agree with Ian in that 'M' also stands for “missing the point”. Also, are we at the point where a bipedal robot could march around for a prolonged period without tripping and falling, thus ending the mission (or are we close enough that this could be achieved in 1000 days?) And if we are, why not just send up ASIMO?

  3. Pingback: The Real Inspiration Behind “Project M” | Astroengine.com

  4. Funnily Charlie Boden just this Saturday talked about NASA being willing to help Japan “put a two-legged robot on the Moon by 2020″ during his unscripted news conference at KSC. Coincidence? (That Japanese 'project' was briefly mentioned in some wire stories last April; haven't found out anything since.)

  5. Perhaps they want to use an android to use as a measure to build a well functioning habitat for average sized humans. They could use the android as a measure. Or maybe James Cameron is footing part of the bill and they are going to let him be the first Avatar on the Moon.

  6. There's not a lot of info about Project M so it's hard to know what to make of it. But before anyone dismisses it outright we should recognize that, contained within the concept, are a number of intriguing possibilities especially in the light of the apparent cancellation of the Constellation program.The Project M video depicts a very small craft, something that wouldn't need an Ares V to get to LEO. Since it contains a robonaut, no life-support systems would be needed apart from a source of power such batteries charged by solar panels. True, a bipedal robot isn't the best choice, but robonaut actually comes attached to a low center-of-gravity rover. The real robonaut has its joints protected from lunar dust by a space suit as well.The main problem with the video is the apparent purpose of the robonaut, namely, it is there to scientifically explore and perform inspiring gestures. No, what a lunar robonaut needs to do is to prepare the way for humans by exploring lava tubes, searching for frozen water, setting up equipment to produce oxygen, water, & fuel, and constructing habitats. Pairs of robonauts, teleoperated from Earth, could potentially work together, assemble large structures, and even repair each other. Then, later, humans can arrive singly or in small numbers. They won't need to bring much in the way of life support or fuel for the return. In short, they may not need an Ares V to reach and land on the moon.Lunar robonauts could keep the goals of Constellation alive.

  7. Why send humans recklessly to visit for a week? Astronauts are useless weight on the Moon. You can have the brightest people on Earth visit virtually 24 hours a day – recharge during 14 days of sun and during 14 days of night 1)setup up a test base. Let robonauts be the canaries in the mineshaft. I suggested it to NASA after human missions were about to be toast . 2)Test factory for air & water 3) observatory on the far side 4) & 5) are much later but real cool. EXPLORE the joint

  8. How about sending robots to excavate small asteroids for Earth-Mars cycler ships? Isn't one of the huge problems with manned missions to Mars that astronauts will get way too much radiation unless we waste a lot of time and energy on extra shielding which is already up there in small Neat Earth Objects?

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