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Robotic Spacecraft: Far-Ranging Robots

The All-Terrain Hex-Legged Extra-Terrestrial Explorer, known as ATHLETE, is a six-legged robotic lunar rover under development by NASA.

Struggling to continue working under a sizzling sun, crawling along despite intense temperature extremes and scouring winds, or flying at record-breaking speeds -- just as intrepid explorers have braved harsh circumstances on Earth, our robotic missions have faced extreme conditions at other worlds! Scientists and engineers continue to find creative solutions to the challenges presented by conditions in our solar system.

The Robots That Keep Going and Going
The rovers Spirit and Opportunity landed
on Mars in January 2004 for a three month
mission. Spirit continued functioning for 6
years, and Opportunity is still at work today!
The MESSENGER robotic mission in orbit around Mercury faces intense heat due to the proximity of the sun. The Mars rovers struggle with temperature variations from 35 to -90 degrees Celsius. In order to reach two different asteroids and go into orbits around each, the Dawn spacecraft is propelled by ion thrusters, performing a change in velocity of over 10 km/s, more than any other spacecraft has done after separation from its launch rocket. The electronics onboard the Juno robotic mission to Jupiter are shielded from the high speed particles accelerated by the powerful magnetic field that surrounds Jupiter.

The robotic technologies that we build to withstand these environments and study these distant worlds are also useful back home. Robotic spinoffs have been used to search dangerous or inaccessible areas here on Earth. Designed features can be useful for police, rescue and emergency personnel.

Join us in this topic to explore the variety of robotic spacecraft in our solar system!

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Last Updated: 12 Sep 2014