NASA ‘Nose’ Importance of Humans, Robots Exploring Together

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The mass spectrometer measures the number of molecules present in any molecular mass to create a “mass spectrum” reading. Based on this data, analysts determine the composition of present gases. The mass spectrometer can distinguish between trace orbital gasses, which occur naturally, and chemicals potentially originating on station, such as ammonia. This tool can tell the difference from a football field length away. 

The total pressure gauge measures the total pressure in space. After the general vicinity of a leak is known, the pressure gauge is able to pinpoint it within a few inches in real time. 

The benefits of leak detection have already been proven on station, and this ability could be similarly helpful for long-term human habitation on the lunar Gateway, a lunar habitat, and perhaps one day a crewed voyage to Mars. At its core, RELL is a robotics-controlled characterizer of the local environment. This same ability could be used to determine the composition of nearby environments for exploration on the lunar surface, and for scientific and resource utilization purposes.

nasa4.jpgIllustration of Astronauts Exploring a Lunar Crater 

The president’s direction from Space Policy Directive-1 galvanizes NASA’s return to the Moon and builds on progress on the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, collaborations with U.S industry and international partners, and knowledge gained from current robotic assets at the Moon and Mars. 

Whether reducing the risk to astronauts on station or one day “sniffing out” the environment of an extraterrestrial world, the human-robotics collaboration demonstrated by RELL will be a vital part of NASA’s exploration future.


By Kathryn Cawdrey
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.



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