NASA team wants to send robot to moon

Zachary Roth
NASA Robot
NASA Robot

NASA engineers are at work on a project to send a humanoid robot to the moon -- and they say they can do it within 1,000 days.

The idea, known as Project M, is the brainchild of the chief engineer at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Stephen Altemus, according to the New York Times. After the Obama administration deemed $150 billion too expensive to send live astronauts back to the moon, Altemus and his team hit on the robot idea as a low-cost alternative. They say it can be done for less than $200 million, plus $250 million for the rocket -- a steal in NASA terms.

The robot would be designed to walk on the moon's surface and send back live video. Sending a robot is much cheaper than sending humans, because it doesn't need to eat or breathe, and there's no return trip.

NASA already has a humanoid robot. It is scheduled to lift off Wednesday on the shuttle Discovery bound for the International Space Station, where it will become the first humanoid robot in space. It will help with housekeeping chores at the space station.

But the prospects for Project M ever getting off the ground (pun intended) are uncertain. There is currently no money for critical elements like finishing the robot's legs, and the congressional blueprint for NASA's budget prioritizes a heavy-lift rocket.

Still, as NASA struggles to define a clear mission for itself in an age when many are questioning the practical value of space exploration, Project M's backers see it as a way to inspire a new generation of engineers. "I think that's going to light a few candles," Neil Milburn of Armadillo Aerospace, a Texas company working on Project M with Altemus' team, told the Times.

(Photo: NASA/Lauren Harnett, via AP)