Unlike lunar craters, which usually form from asteroid collisions, lunar wells are similar to the holes that occasionally emerge on Earth, forming when the Moon's surface collapses into an underground cavity.
NASA suspects voids may be useful for reaching underground resources such as minerals or ice, or perhaps serve as a shelter for the lunar settlers – so it funded a $ 2 million project to build robots that could exploit them.
The newly funded project, called Skylight, is a creation of Professor William "Red" Whittaker of Carnegie Mellon University.
So far, NASA has collected most of what it knows about lunar holes from orbital images – but, according to Whittaker, those images are missing.
"From orbit, you can not get the views or the proximity to see the important details," Whittaker said in a press release. "That's why we need robots. Is there a way to get in? Are there bumps? Could a robot rappel? Can there be a fissure, cave or cave opening?
Whittaker's goal is to develop one or more robots capable of autonomously navigating the Moon, collecting thousands of images that they will carry to a landing module.
A computer in the lander will use the photos to create detailed models of lunar wells and send them back to Earth.
Robots need to be fast too, completing their mission in just one week – before the cold lunar night permanently deactivates them
CONSULT MORE INFORMATION: NASA Selects Carnegie Mellon to Develop Lunar Well Exploration Technology [Carnegie Mellon University]
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