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New Ideas

April 17, 2012

When spacecraft of the future land on the worlds of the solar system, they won’t sit still or poke along on wheels. Instead, they’ll hop, bounce, roll, and fly like a bunch of outcasts from “Toy Story.”

At least, that’s the plan of scientists and engineers who are developing new ideas for space exploration for NASA. They’re participating in a project that’s thinking long-term. It’s not looking for ways to improve current engines or batteries, but for technologies that have never been tried before.

NASA funded 30 of these small research projects last year. Many of them are focused on new types of engines and power systems. Others are looking at ways to protect astronauts from space radiation, including electromagnetic “shields” like those on the starship Enterprise.

But several of the projects are looking at new types of gizmos to explore the planets, moons, and asteroids of the solar system. One, for example, is planning vehicles that would “transform” themselves during a mission. Such a machine might be a standard rover one day, then transform itself into a glider the next. And another project is looking at ways to make vehicles that hop or roll through caves and lava tubes on the Moon, Mars, or other worlds.

Few of these ideas will pan out, and none will do so for years. But if any of them do, they could make exploration faster, cheaper -- and just maybe a whole lot more fun.

We’ll talk about even longer-term ideas tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012


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