The Moon has always been a wonder to humans, and in modern times, it has been visited by people themselves and robotic machines. Moon exploration has taught humans about its properties, as well as the evolution of the Solar System. It has been known for centuries that the Moon causes the tides, and it took space-age exploration to show how it is connected to human existence.

NASA is planning to send crewed missions in the next few years to continue Moon exploration put on hold for decades. Aside from they are also adding lunar rovers and robotics to the mix for better exploration. NASA's Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, will explore the extreme environment of the Moon in search of water ice ad other potential resources. It will be placed at the South Pole of the Moon in 2023 for a 100-day mission.

But it seems that VIPER will be the only robot that will be there as NASA holds an annual competition, called LUNABOTS, which chooses the best design for a mining robot that will help in the future lunar missions.

 Moon Exploration: SIU Engineering Students Win NASA's Competition to Design Robots Mining Robots
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Viper rover drilling on the moon NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, is a mobile robot that will roam around the Moon’s south pole looking for water ice.

SIU Engineering Student Win NASA's LUNABOTS Competition

The Southern Illinoisan reported that engineering students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIU) received first place in NASA's LUNABOTS competition, an annual robotics mining contest that features dozens of teams from across the country.

The team received practical experience in the full engineering lifecycle process, from developing a concept to creating the end product. According to NASA, the RMC: Lunabotics competition requires the team to "design, build and run their autonomously operated robot, traverse the simulated off-world terrain and excavate the simulated Lunar regolith."

It also included a research paper detailing how it works and how they come up with the design, as well as possible improvements that can be made to the design.

The key to the victory of SIU's team was the interdisciplinary nature of their effort that used students from various programs to create a robust design. These students are studying mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer engineering, ad computer science programs.

The competitions enabled the students to learn about other things that are not normally discussed in their majors, like computer science students learning machining processes and mechanical engineering students learning about coding.

ALSO READ: South Korea Becomes Tenth Country to Join Artemis Accords That Supports NASA-Led Moon Exploration

Robots to the Moon

Since the 1950s, space agencies have been sending robots or probes to observe the Moon. The Sputnik missions brought back images of the Moon that changed how humans see the Moon from merely a silver disk in the sky to something more incredible.

But the world has first seen a closer look at the lunar surface with USSR's robotic Luna 9 spacecraft in 1966, according to NASA. The robot showed that the surface is powdery or dusty, with rocks strewn all over the area.

The US also sent its own robots to the Moon with their own lunar landers and Apollo missions. The Apollo 11 in 1969 was the first crewed mission to land on the Moon in which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made history as the first men to step foot on the lunar surface. The mission is also the first to take home some lunar samples to Earth.

Final robotic missions mapped the entire Moon from orbit for the first time and took photos of potential landing sites for future lunar missions. This allows certifying the safety of following Apollo missions. These robotic missions paved the way for further understanding of Earth's natural satellite.

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