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Robots at Work

Planetary Rovers And Space Probes

Robots have already been sent to places too dangerous or difficult for humans to reach, including deep into mines, the ocean floor, and, most famously, outer space. The Mars Rover that was launched by NASA in 2003 and began exploring the Martian surface in 2005 is a robot geologist. It collects rock and soil samples and studies the planet's surface by camera. It uses microscopic imagers for close-up views of the soil and spectrometers to analyze the soil's mineral content. The rover utilizes a robotic arm and a magnetic array to gather its samples, all independent of human control.

The rover was not NASA's first experience with robotic components. NASA has launched robotic space probes, including Cassini to Saturn. Before beginning its orbit around Saturn, Cassini launched the Huygen robot probe to Titan, one of Saturn's moons, in 2004. The Stardust robotic probe intercepted the comet Wild-2 in 2005 and, after a three billion mile (4.8 billion kilometer) round-trip and a collision with the comet, returned two minutes ahead of schedule to its landing site southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah. The space shuttle's robot arm, used to both launch and retrieve satellites and cargo from the shuttle, was also an early NASA success in robotics.

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