Japan was an early leader in space robotics. Their ETS-VII mission in 1997 demonstrated the ability of robots on orbit to perform several useful tasks (see the Library for more information on ETS-VII). Now Japan is studying how to use autonomous robots to prepare a Moon colony:
One of the factors of success will be the quality of the lunar soil wherever the robots are emplaced. But two things we know about lunar soil (officially known as “regolith”):
- It is very abrasive, causing damage to equipment and to human respiratory systems.
- Below a certain depth (a few centimeters), it is compacted nearly perfectly. That means, if you were to try to dig it up with a shovel, it would seem almost like solid rock.
Hopefully there will be international collaboration on developing the right equipment, with the right capabilities, to prepare facilities to support sustained human presence on the Moon.