Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lunar Robotics Challenge - Day 1 - Setting up Camp

We arrived at our hotel very late on Sunday night. It’s a really remote spot almost on top of the Teide volcano on Tenerife. After the 12 hour trip, we were joking that ESA set up the event here, because it’s almost as remote as the moon itself. Then again, the scenery really rewards for the long trip. We had to climb more then 2000 meters, starting right at the coast, through a rain forest, until we reached a desert-like landscape in the bottom of an old crater. It’s a truly lunar scenery with petrified lava-streams and weird rock formations that give the whole setting an extremely extraterrestrial touch. Especially when driving through it at night.
Our first day started rather slowly. ESA was putting up the challenge site on which we took a short stroll before we explored the area around el Teide. It was really nice to be at the actually testing grounds and to see what our robot has to handle. During the last months, the only information we got about the challenge came from the blogs of our competitors and google-earth. It gave us a rather abstract and competitive feeling about this event. But seeing the crater today, we realized that the challenge is not at all about being better then the other teams, but about completing the mission scenario. But even if we fail to do so, the entire project will be a great success. Just getting a robot here and being able to test it in an environment that no lab in the world can provide, is more then we could have asked for. The crater seems bigger in reality then we imagined it. It’s also way steeper then we thought and the bottom is covered with big rocks. The soil is made up of granular volcanic rocks (with a couple of millimeters in diameter) that are super-light and, despite their size, almost behave like sand. So we’re really happy to have a tethered solution that will help us get the robot uphill.
On the picture above, Andy is marking the lander’s location in the far right background. Martin is standing on the edge of the crater and David where we expect to get our soil samples. Considering that our robots are less then half a meter long, the distances are considerably.

Our urges to start immediately were hold back by a lack of robots, which arrived at around 4 pm at the testing site. Thank god, nothing was damaged during shipping. Once they were there, we instantly set up shop in our truck before we had to go to the security debriefing at our hotel.

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