Robots may reach the moon before humans return to it a NASA project has suggested.
A NASA sponsored lab in Colorado, USA, is aiming to send robots to the moon to construct telescopes capable of looking back in time. These telescopes will be operated remotely by astronauts orbiting the moon.
“This is not your grandfather’s Apollo program that we’re looking at,” said Jack Burns, director of the Network for Exploration and Space Science at the University of Colorado. “This is really a very different kind of program and very importantly it’s going to involve machines and humans working together.”
The mission, which is due to take place sometime in the next decade, will send a rover to the far side of the moon. The machine will then scale a mountain taller than any on earth and set up radio telescopes to observe the galaxy.
The telescopes will be planted in the dust, soil and broken rock covering the moon's surface called the "regolith". From this vantage point, the telescopes will be able to look back in time, into the cosmic void, to the early formation of our solar system, said Burns.
This kind of observation is best carried out on the moon, where light and radio interference won't get in the way of analysis.
Astronauts stationed at a lunar outpost called Gateway will be able to control the rover's arm. The remote set-up will make controlling the robot "like doing some sort of video game," said Colorado graduate student Ben Mellinkoff.
In March, Vice President of the United States Mike Pence said that the US will put humans on the moon "by any means necessary" by 2024, cutting the previous 2028 goal in half and accelerating the 21st-century space race.
As the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission loomed, other countries were also eager to reach the moon. China's National Space Administration landed a spacecraft on the moon in January and aimed to build a base on the moon. India was also scheduled to send a rover to the moon but cancelled the mission less than one hour before lift-off.