How Do lunar rovers work?| Ask Dr. Universe

When I got your question, I started to imagine what it would be like to drive a rover on the moon. As we bounced along craters, we could kick up moon dust and stop to gather samples of moon rock.

How do lunar rovers work? -Pedro, 10

Dear Pedro,

When I got your question, I started to imagine what it would be like to drive a rover on the moon. As we bounced along craters, we could kick up moon dust and stop to gather samples of moon rock.

Rovers on the moon, and other kinds of exploration vehicles, have helped us learn about places that are hard for humans to reach on their own. Each rover has a mission and they need a few key things to work.

First, a rover vehicle needs a power source. Some rovers are battery-powered, like the lunar roving vehicle. Other rovers use solar panels to harness energy from the Sun. These solar panels are usually on top of the rover. The electricity they produce powers the wheels and the sensors the rover uses to conduct science experiments.

Scientists and engineers ask questions about what job they want a rover to do, and the environment where the rover will be working. The moon, for example, has no air. The tires we Earthlings have on our bikes and cars wouldn’t work on the moon. In fact, these kinds of tires would explode there. On lunar roving vehicles, tires are made up of a steel wire mesh. They support the rover’s weight, and astronauts don’t have to worry about getting a flat tire.

While lunar roving vehicles required astronauts to drive them, some rovers go on solo missions. Well, they aren’t totally alone. As they dig in the extraterrestrial soil and take pictures of these distant places, they communicate what they learn back to Earth.

Scientists send out computer commands that tell the rover what to do using super-powerful radio transmitters. The rover’s antenna helps send and receive the messages. It takes about a one second delay to command a rover on the moon and up to 22.5 minutes to communicate with one on Mars.

I decided to meet up with my friend Phil Engel to learn more about Mars rovers. He and a team of fellow student engineers from Washington State University recently brought back their award-winning rover from a global competition at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah.

Their rover has an arm, or excavator, to dig for samples of dirt. The rover also uses sensors—like those you can buy to test your garden’s soil—to get the scoop on what’s in the dirt, including its temperature, humidity, and saltiness.

“What a rover vehicle does on Mars is pretty simple,” Engel said. “But what we are doing here on Earth with that rover is pretty extraordinary.”

While it might not sound exciting to look for dirt, these samples can tell us a lot about the planet or moon. The elements in these samples can help us find answers to some of our big questions about life on Mars—if there used to be life there, if there’s life now, or if life could be there in the future.

Whether on Mars, the moon, or even remote places on our own planet, rovers roam around to help us explore and discover. Who knows—maybe one day you’ll help find new ways to make them work and build rovers that are out of this world.

Sincerely,
Dr. Universe

More in Life

Enumclaw High hosts 7th annual Empty Bowls event

The event, held at Enumclaw High School, will help fund the Enumclaw Food Bank and Plateau Outreach Ministries.

A modern fairytale with a twist

He did it on one knee. One knee, with a nervous grin… Continue reading

Read the first two books before tackling ‘Banished’

Well, look at you. And you do — ten times a day,… Continue reading

Breakfast for the Birds coming Feb. 21

Celebrate the coming of spring with breakfast, fun hats and Ciscoe Morris.

With help from ‘The Grumpy Gardener,’ you can prepare for spring | The Bookworm

Normally, you’d never allow it. Holes in your yard? No way! Trenches… Continue reading

How to keep The Courier-Herald visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections, and you might see less news. Here’s how you can fix that.

A small act of kindness can make a big impact | SoHaPP

Join SoHaPP’s book group this February to discuss “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio. Don’t have the book? Check it out at the Enumclaw Library or visit The Sequel.

This book will WOW you | Point of Review

Wow. Just… wow. Did you see that? Wasn’t it awesome? It was… Continue reading

EHS graduate McNab promoted to Lieutenant Colonel

Tom McNab was recently promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force.

White River Valley Museum opens “Suffer for Beauty” exhibit

Corsets, bras, and bustles, oh my! The White River Valley Museum is hosting its new event, “Suffer for Beauty,” which is all about the changing ideals of female beauty through the ages. The exhibit runs through June 17.

Library’s art and writing contest returns to Pierce County | Pierce County Library System

Pierce County teens are encouraged to express themselves through writing, painting, drawing and more for the annual Our Own Expressions competition, hosted by the Pierce County Library System.

‘School of Awake’ offers advice to adolescent girls

Twinkle, twinkle. For as long as you can remember, you’ve known how… Continue reading