Washington, July 22 : American space agency NASA has commissioned leading Ohio State University researcher Ron Li to develop a new navigation system that will work like the global positioning system (GPS) to enable astronauts to find their way around on the moon.
Li, the Lowber B. Strange Designated Professor of civil and environmental engineering and geodetic science, says that astronauts cannot use GPS on the moon because it does not have any satellites to send signals to support the navigational tool.
He has revealed that NASA will be spending 1.2 million dollars over the next three years on the creation of a navigation system similar to GPS.
He described his new project in a poster session on Monday at the NLSI Lunar Science Conference, held at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.
He said that the new navigational system would feel a lot like GPS, but would rely on signals from a set of sensors including lunar beacons, stereo cameras, and orbital imaging sensors.
Li is already developing software for Spirit and Opportunity, the two robotic rovers that have helped learn a lot about navigation from the NASA's ongoing Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Mission.
It is believed that the new technology Li is developing - sensors, inertial navigation systems, cameras, computer processors, and image processors - will make the next trip to the moon easier for astronauts.
Li pointed out the fact that people are used to having certain visual cues to judge distances, such as the size of a building or another car on the horizon. However, he added, the Moon has no such cues.
He highlighted incidents during past lunar missions when astronauts were travelling to a target site such as a crater, and got within a few yards of it, but couldn't see the crater because of difficult terrain.
"They were so close, but they had to turn back for safety's sake," he said.
Li said that astronauts' safety would be a top priority for his team, which includes experts in psychology and human-computer interaction as well as engineering.
"We will help with navigation, but also with astronauts' health as well. We want them to avoid the stress of getting lost, or getting frustrated with the equipment. Lunar navigation isn't just a technology problem, it's also biomedical," Li said.
He said that the team would first create a prototype navigation system, and then travel to the Mojave Desert to test and refine it.
According to him, the third year would possibly be spent testing the system on NASA astronauts.
NASA would then have several years to incorporate the navigation system into its other lunar technologies before 2020, he said.