The Meaning of Hahamongna

The original settlers of the region were sometimes called the Hahamongna Indians. The word means "Flowing Waters, Fruitful Valley" in the native Tongva language.

Hahamongna News

Title:

JPL moon rover going out for walks in the Hahamongna Watershed Park

Subtitle:

Date:

2010-08-06

Author:

Dan Abendschein

Publication:

Pasadena Star News

Content:

PASADENA - A six-legged, 15-foot-tall robot that could one day visit Mars or the Moon spent Friday morning in a much less exotic location: the Hahamongna Watershed Park.

The All-Terrain, Hex-Limbed, Extra-Terrestrial Explorer (ATHLETE) is a half-sized model of a vehicle that could one day be used for anything from transporting cargo to fixing equipment to excavation projects, all hundreds of thousands of miles away from Earth.

With six limbs and a load-bearing platform in the center, the massive, lumbering vehicle is shaped something like a beetle and moves extremely slowly, with a top speed of 1.25 mph.

JPL engineers have been regularly taking ATHLETE out for test drives on dirt roads in the Hahamongna park to prepare for a long distance driving test that they will be running in Arizona later this month.

Julie Townsend, the JPL robotics engineer who has been working on the project for NASA, said that ATHLETE has so far successfully done every function the space agency has asked her test for, from drilling to digging.

"The possibilities are almost limitless," Townsend said.

A lot of ATHLETE's versatility comes from its ability to use its limbs both as legs and as arms.

The vehicle can roll forward but will also likely be programmed to take steps like an animal or human would, Townsend said. That would allow it to simply step over obstacles.

The platform at the center of the module, where all the limbs meet, can also be set down on the ground. That then allows the legs to be raised into the air and used as arms. The vehicle can then use its limb to drill, dig, or perform other functions that a hand would.

The vehicle's versatility could come in useful on another planet, Townsend said. For example, one of the Mars Rovers currently on the planet, the Spirit, has been unable to move for the last year because it is stuck in sand.

In that situation, ATHLETE would have been able to step over deep sand, or would be able to dig its way out, Townsend said.

The current model has a rectangular habitat on it, which would allow astronauts to live or work inside.

But the vehicle could also be deployed without the habitat, leaving a simple platform at the center where the wheels meet.

That platform allows the vehicle to carry any number of other things that need to be transported. It could serve as either a manned or unmanned vehicle, Townsend said.

Townsend currently pilots the vehicle remotely, using a Nintendo Wii controller.

On Friday, she walked several paces behind the vehicle, as it slowly wheeled along the dusty paths of Hahamongna.

"I think I have the best job in the world," Townsend said, as she moved the vehicle forward.

A small crowd watched as Townsend made adjustments and carefully maneuvered ATHLETE around oak trees and brush.

The full-scale model of ATHLETE would be the largest robotic vehicle ever sent to the moon or Mars, Townsend said.

There is no guarantee the vehicle will ever make it there. Right now, it is in the research and development phase, and will continue to be for the next five years or so, according to Townsend.

If NASA decides it wants to use the vehicle in a future mission, the project could suddenly receive a new level of attention, with thousands of engineers being assigned to work on it. Currently, there are only 16 people working on ATHLETE, she said.

The vehicle will be shipped to a NASA station in the Arizona high desert later this month. Once there, ATHLETE will be required to complete a 25-mile drive, a mission that will take the slow-moving vehicle several weeks.