Planetary exploration rebooted: New ways of exploring the Moon, Mars and beyond


Date Thursday April 29th 2010
Time 4:00-5:00pm
Venue George E. Pake Auditorium, PARC

PARC Forum

During the past 50 years, we have learned to explore and work in space, visiting the Moon, Mars, and other destinations. Much of what we know about the Solar System we owe to robotic spacecraft, landers, planetary rovers, and human explorers. As we look to the future, however, there is ample opportunity to reinvent planetary exploration: to develop new techniques and systems that will enable greater public involvement and provide greater science.

In this talk, I will present some of the ways in which the NASA Ames Intelligent Robotics Group (IRG) is working to “reboot” planetary exploration. To begin, I will describe how IRG has been developing and field testing robotic systems for human exploration. These robots are designed to perform work that cannot, or should not, be performed by humans. Some of this work will be performed in parallel with human activity, but many tasks can be done before and after humans missions.

Next, I will provide an overview of IRG’s efforts to develop automated planetary mapping systems. These systems are needed to process the enormous amount of digital remote sensing data that NASA is collecting with spacecraft such as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. In our work, we make extensive use of computer vision and high-performance cloud and supercomputing.

Finally, I will discuss how IRG is working to enable the public to more easily and actively participate in exploration. To do this, we rely heavily on neo-geography tools, such as Google Earth, and immersive panoramas. In 2009, for example, we collaborated with Google to release “Mars in Google Earth” and “Moon in Google Earth.” During 2010, we will be using GigaPan for citizen science, as part of simulated lunar robotic and crew missions.


Dr. Terry Fong is the Director of the Intelligent Robotics Group at the NASA Ames Research Center. From 2002 to 2004, he was the deputy leader of the Virtual Reality and Active Interfaces Group at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL). From 1997 to 2000, he was Vice President of Development for Fourth Planet, a developer of real-time visualization software.

Dr. Fong has published more than seventy papers in field robotics, human-robot interaction, and robot user interfaces. He received his B.S. and M.S. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his Ph.D. in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University.

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