From 1969 to 2024: We’re Going Back to the Moon, But This Time We’re Bringing COLDArm
The Artemis Program: It’s all about the Moon
The Artemis program is NASA’s continuation of Apollo—that famed first mission to the Moon in 1969, when American space exploration led the world in taking that “giant leap for mankind,” as astronaut Neil Armstrong so famously remarked. Since then, NASA’s lunar dreams and missions have continued. While the Artemis program is a continuation of Apollo, it is also, and more importantly, so much more. According to NASA’s Artemis Plan:
“The Artemis program builds on a half-century of experience and preparation to establish a robust human-robotic presence on and around the Moon.”
Today, NASA’s main goals for the Artemis program are to:
- Develop a persistent presence on the Moon, and
- Develop technology that will assist humankind’s efforts to reach Mars.
In other words: humankind’s success on the Moon will possibly empower, or drive, our future success on Mars, the Red Planet. But we’ll start with the Moon.
In-situ Resource Utilization: Or “Living Off” the Moon
A huge part of enabling the success of the Artemis program is In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU). This is akin to “living off the land” by extracting what we need from the environment. According to NASA, “advancing ISRU technologies could lead to future production of fuel, water, and/or oxygen from local materials, decreasing supply needs from Earth.”
Where might we find many of those extraplanetary resources? The poles. The polar regions of the Moon and Mars are where materials like water tend to accumulate. Water, for example, might be mined and recycled: used and re-used. Think of it as modern homesteading on the Moon. So, in order to be successful at ISRU, we will need the ability to do work in cold areas for long periods of time. You get the picture. That’s where COLDArm comes in. COLDArm is short for Cold Operable Lunar Deployable Arm, our first-in-kind robotic arm currently under our development in partnership with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). As the Artemis Plan explains:
“Prospecting, extraction and mining initiatives are advancing our capabilities to find and harness resources from the lunar regolith. Chemical and thermal process developments may provide options to break down naturally occurring minerals and compounds found on the Moon and convert them to human consumables or even propellant.”
Many of these processes will not be possible without the reach of COLDArm, a robotic arm that can withstand the extreme cold and enable the further exploration of the Moon’s regolith and resources for longer periods of time. The robotic arm will be equipped with a scoop and penetrometer to gather and inspect the regolith, or that layer of loose rock that covers the harder bedrock of the Moon’s surface.
COLDArm is the Key to Upcoming Lunar Missions
Any missions to extreme cold environments like the Moon and Mars’ North and South Poles have been short in duration. Why? For one thing, it gets so cold that batteries quickly run out of power, and the mechanical interfaces can’t handle the huge temperature swings. This has limited the length, and capabilities of previous lunar missions. COLDArm will extend our ability to explore extreme cold regions of space for longer periods of time, with more activity. We want, as we said, “persistent presence” on the Moon, Mars, and beyond. That’s the dream.
During COLDArm’s first mission to the Moon, it will be thoroughly tested in order to determine if it performs well in extremely low temperatures: to see if it can do what it’s been designed to do.
The Moon as a Stepping Stone to Mars
Next up, after the Moon: Mars. According to NASA’s Artemis Plan, space explorers are seeing the 2024 mission to the Moon “as the stepping stone for our next greatest leap—human exploration of Mars.” This vision requires boldness, technical capabilities the world has never seen, and one hundred and forty million miles in space travel to make history—the first human mission to Mars. Can we do it?
For Further Space Exploration
Of course, the next-gen robotics developed in COLDArm will likely find a home in other contexts and applications beyond the Moon. For example, helping to power a Mars rover through the Red Planet’s night or during a dust storm are just two possible future scenarios. As COLDArm faces and conquers the conditions on the Earth’s Moon, this testing and perfecting process will one day, hopefully, carry it beyond the Moon, to Mars. That’s the dream.
Download a PDF plan of the Artemis Mission NASA’s Lunar Exploration Program Overview.