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Liftoff to Learning: Let's Talk Robotics

Video Title: Let's Talk Robotics
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Description: This video program examines some of NASA's robotic research and how robots are used in space exploration. Classroom scenes show robot study at the intermediate and high school level.

Subjects: NASA's use of robotics in space exploration.

Science Standards:
Science and Technology
-Abilities of technological design -Understandings about science and technology

Universals Of Technology:*
- Utilizing Technological Systems
- Determining and Controlling the Behavior of Technological Systems
- Designing and Developing Technological Systems - Nature and Evolution of Technology
- Physical Systems
- Linkages
*Technology standards are under development.

Table of Contents

The word robot comes from the Czech word robota which means forced or repetitive labor. Czech playwright Karel Capek coined the term for his 1920 play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots). In the play, the human-like robots take over the world.

Today's robots usually look very different from humans. They are found in manufacturing, research, medical treatment, entertainment and space. NASA uses robots to explore Earth and the other planets, to manipulate payloads on the Space Shuttle, and plans to use several robot arms on the International Space Station.

The definition of what a robot is varies with the source referenced. Generally, robots are machines that operate by computer controls. In terrestrial applications, robots are most often used for dangerous, dirty, or dull jobs. Examples include painting and welding robots in automotive assembly lines and robots used to dismantle old nuclear power plants. In NASA-sponsored experiments, walking robots were used to explore active volcanoes in Alaska and the Antarctic.

In this video, several of NASA's robotic applications are explored. Viewers will learn about the Pathfinder robot that landed on Mars in 1997 and released a microrover spacecraft (Sojourner) to explore the nearby Marscape. Viewers will also learn about the 15-meter-long Remote Manipulator System arm that Space Shuttle astronauts use to handle payloads in space and assist in space construction and satellite repair operations. Research being done to test robot arms for the International Space Station and a free-flying camera robot will also be seen.

Terms  contents

Articulated - Jointed arm.
End Effector - Device at the end of a robot arm that is used to grasp or engage objects.
Degrees of freedom - Each plane in which a robot can maneuver.
Robot - Mechanical device that performs human tasks, either automatically or by remote control. (From the Czech word robota.)
Robotics - Study and application of robot technology.
Telerobotics - Robot that is operated remotely.

Classroom Activities  contents

Robot Arm and End Effector

Materials: Wooden craft sticks, drill, small brass paper fastener, assorted materials

Background: One of the important objectives in the development of robots is to enable robots to interact with their environment. Interaction is often accomplished with some sort of arm and gripping device or end effector.

Procedure: Drill holes through the craft sticks as shown in the diagram. Each student will need four drilled sticks and four brass paper fasteners. Dampening the sticks before drilling can reduce cracking the wood. Have students assemble robot arms as shown in the illustration above. Tell them to try to pick up a pencil or some other object with the arm. They will find the task difficult. Next, tell the students to design some sort of end effector for the end of the arm that will enable them to pick up the object. Students should make their end effector and attach it to the ends of the arm with glue. Evaluate their work by having them demonstrate picking up the object. Ask students what other objects they can pick up with the arm. Would the arm and end effector have to be modified to pick up sediment and pebbles on Mars?

Robot Arm and End Effector illustrated

Design a Microrover for the Moon

Paper, art supplies, assorted materials (plastic food containers, styrofoam packaging, spools, broken toys, etc.), glue, and tape

NASA has shifted its planetary exploration strategies from complex and expensive "do-everything" spacecraft to simpler and less expensive spacecraft that do only a few jobs. A good example of this operational change is the Sojourner microrover robot spacecraft that explored small areas of the Martian surface in 1997. Microrovers are easier to design and construct than the larger complex craft and several can be constructed for the same price. If a major malfunction should take place in one rover, others can be deployed to replace it. Recent studies of the Moon by the robot Lunar Prospector spacecraft have confirmed that water, in the form of ice, exists at the Moon's South Pole. The water is found in depressions that are forever shielded from the Sun's heat. The discovery of water means that future human explorers of the Moon can use the water for drinking, for production of breathing oxygen, and for production of rocket fuel.

Challenge students to design a microrover spacecraft for exploring the Moon's South Pole region. The purpose of the rover is to map the extent of water ice found there. The robot will have to have some sort of transportation system, sensors, power, scientific instruments, and a communication system. Have students sketch their robot design or construct a model of the robot from assorted materials. Have students write a description of how their robot works or present an oral report.

microrover for the moon illustrated
References  contents

Crew Biographies STS-85, STS-87

Robert L. Curbeam, Jr. (Lieutenant Commander, USN)
Stephen K. Robinson (Ph.D.)
Jan Davis (Ph.D.)

Kalpana Chawla (Ph.D.)
Steven W. Lindsey (Major, USAF)

To obtain biographic information, click on highlighted names


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