Sitting in the space station, ESA astronaut remotely drives lunar rover collecting rock samples

This method will help future astronauts to stay in the safety of the spacecraft while controlling the rover.


An astronaut in space took control of ESA's lunar rover, Interact, on Earth and drove it around successfully. It even picked up a rock sample as a test. These preliminary tests were conducted to ascertain that the space agency could replicate this method on the moon or Mars.

This was the first test in a series of tests to check if the technology developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) actually worked. The entire series of tests are called Analog-1.

In this test, astronaut Luca Parmitano took control of the prototype lunar rover, which was situated in the Netherlands, from the International Space Station where he is currently working. He then drove it around an obstacle course in the testing facility and picked up a rock sample from a sampling site.

Sitting in the space station, ESA astronaut remotely drives lunar rover collecting rock samples

The ESA prototype of the lunar rover in the Netherlands. Image credit: ESA

The astronaut used two laptops and a Sigma7 ‘force-feedback’ joystick with six degrees of motion to operate the rover. The joystick allows the astronaut to feel what the robot feels and adjust his grip accordingly.  The test was supposed to last one hour but the Italian astronaut completed it in half an hour.

ESA wants to build a rover that can work hand-in-hand with human beings. The agency believes that robots can go to places and do things that human beings are not able to. However, they are not as adaptive and quick like human beings.

ESA project manager Kjetil Wormnes said in a statement, “A rover on Mars would have taken weeks to do the same work Luca and the Analog-1 rover did in half an hour.”

If all goes well with this rover, ESA will be able to send astronauts into orbit around other planets without taking the risk of landing them. They will be able to control the rover while orbiting around the planet.

Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano that took control of the rover from the Space station. Image credit : ESA

Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano that took control of the rover from the Space station. Image credit : ESA

Jessica Grenouilleau, Meteron project lead at ESA’s Exploration Systems Group said in a press release, “Even on the Moon preparing an astronaut for a sortie takes hours just to get into a suit and prepare the airlock. By giving astronauts the possibility to control the robots nearby in the safety and comfort of their base or orbital spacecraft, much more can be achieved. This first test indicates an excellent adaptation between the crew and the robotic system, making this combination better at a wide range of tasks.”

Since this test was a success, Parmitano will go ahead with other tests. In the next test, he will drive the rover around the test facility to three different sites to collect rock samples.

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