Lunar emissary: Pittsburgh's robotic rover aims for the moon

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The Martian rover Opportunity has grabbed headlines as the most sophisticated robot sent to a neighboring planet. During its short time on Mars, Opportunity has already documented evidence of an ancient river bed.

Any robot heading into space after Opportunity's historic mission will have big treads to fill. The Pittsburgh-based company Astrobotic Technology is determined to give Opportunity reason to look over its shoulder.

The Carnegie Mellon University spinoff said last week that it had completed the prototype of Polaris, a probe that will mine lunar ice in October 2015. Astrobotic is competing against other companies to be the first to get a robot to the moon. Once there, it must travel at least 500 meters under its own power before beaming fresh images back to Earth. The winner will then claim the $20 million Google X Prize.

William "Red" Whittaker, Astrobotic's CEO and founder of CMU's Field Robotics Center, already has an impressive record, having won nine lunar contracts from NASA. That means the odds are in Astrobotic's favor.

The only tacky thing about the mission is the plan to have Polaris' treads imprint the logos of its corporate sponsors in the moon's surface, which could last indefinitely. The moon will be around long after the companies have disappeared. The plan to plant their logos should vanish, too.



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