Scientists and engineers don't always dance to the beat of the same drum, especially when it comes to "hard rock" science -- the study of intact, crystallized rocks on other planets, which may provide clues to how these other worlds formed.
But how do we get to these rocks and other interesting sites? "These scientifically rich spots pose many technological challenges for robots and require engineering designs capable of going where no human or robot has gone before," said Brian Wilcox, robotics engineer and manager of the Solar System Exploration Mobility Technology Program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "While we all agree that reaching the most promising sites is ideal, technology sometimes limits where and how robots will get to that science."
Wilcox will discuss the extreme engineering challenges future solar system exploration robots will face in a pair of free lectures, on Thursday, May 8, at JPL, and on Friday, May 9, at Pasadena City College.
Conducting science on planetary surfaces such as Mars, Venus, Mercury and Saturn's moon Titan can be difficult for mobile robots. So, these science-rich targets demand a fleet of new robots capable of working on land, in the atmosphere and below a planet's surface.
The Viking landers reached Mars in 1976 and gave us a peek at the rocks on the red planet's surface. In 1997, the Pathfinder rover ventured close enough to the planet to examine these rocks up close for the first time. "Although they had the latest technology available at the time, and despite the rich array of rocks visible around them, the Viking landers and Sojourner rover could not do the real "hard rock" science that the upcoming Mars Exploration Rovers will be able to do," said Wilcox. "The twin rovers will not only be close enough to see the rocks, but also get a glimpse inside the rocks, much as a geologist would. Future robots will not only get inside the rocks but pick their own landing sites in real-time."
Both lectures will begin at 7 p.m. Seating is first-come, first-served. The Thursday lecture will be in JPL's von Karman Auditorium. JPL is at 4800 Oak Grove Dr., off the Oak Grove Drive exit of the 210 (Foothill) Freeway. The Friday lecture will be in Pasadena City College's Vosloh Forum, 1570 E. Colorado Blvd. For more information, call (818) 354-0112.
Thursday's lecture will be webcast live and available afterwards at