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College students launching first US robotic moon rover – before NASA

The Moon. (Arshad Shaikh/Dreamstime/TNS)
August 23, 2023

Carnegie Mellon University students are planning to send America’s first robotic lunar rover to the moon ahead of NASA.

Developed over the course of three years by students, faculty, and alumni at Pennsylvania’s Carnegie Mellon University, the Iris rover is scheduled to be transported to the moon by NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.

“Hundreds of students have poured thousands of hours into Iris. We’ve worked for years toward this mission, and to have a launch date on the calendar is an exciting step,” Raewyn Duvall, commander of the Iris mission, said. “Iris will open up lunar and space exploration by proving that a tiny, lightweight rover built by students can succeed on the moon.”

According to Carnegie Mellon University, the Iris rover will be transported by the Peregrine lunar lander, which will be launched by a United Launch Alliance rocket.

The rocket will reportedly be launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. After the Peregrine lands, the Iris will be deployed to the surface, where it is expected to take photos and transmit the photo to Earth as part of a 60-hour mission.

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Carnegie Mellon University noted that the Iris rover mission would represent the “first” American lunar rover, as well as the first rover developed by students.

Additionally, the college said the Iris rover is the “smallest and lightest rover,” and it is the first rover to feature both a carbon fiber chassis and wheels.

“The Iris mission demonstrates what is possible, and could chart the future of planetary exploration,” the college stated.

William Whittaker, Founders University Research Professor in the Robotics Institute, explained, “In space, what matters is what flies, and soon you’ll see irrefutable proof that what Carnegie Mellon has accomplished in planetary exploration matters a great deal.”

In addition to the Iris rover, Carnegie Mellon University will send the MoonArk to the moon. The MoonArk has been designed to serve as the “first museum on the moon,” according to the university.

“The 10-ounce cylinder comprises four small chambers made of titanium, platinum and sapphire that contain hundreds of images, poems, music, nano-objects, mechanisms and samples from Earth,” the university stated. “Collectively, these items tell complex narratives integrating the arts, humanities, sciences and technologies.”

The MoonArk is the culmination of work between 18 universities and organizations, as well as 60 team members and over 250 artists, scientists, engineers, writers, musicians, and educators.

“The whole spirit of the project is about cooperation and humans being creative and moving forward together,” Mark Baskinger, MoonArk project director, said. “It is aspirational to send a sculptural object to the moon, but it’s also a very hopeful piece. We hope and expect that future humans will see that quality in us.”