Robots on Mars

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(Credit: sid hastings/WUSTL Photos)

When Adam Steltzner, PhD, NASA’s engineer in charge of the Mars Curiosity rover sky-crane landing, was on the Washington University in St. Louis campus recently to deliver an Assembly Series talk, a group of undergraduates was eager to meet him and talk about engineering and robots.

The 11 students comprise an independent team for NASA’s Robotic Mining Competition, a university-level program to design and build a working mining robot to collect simulated Martian surface material. With guidance from team leader Mike Zanetti, a graduate student in earth and planetary sciences, and faculty adviser Dennis Mell, PhD, professor of practice in electrical and systems engineering, the WUSTL Lunabotics team is preparing for the fifth annual NASA competition.

Before his talk, Steltzner (above, left) met with Lunabotics members for a demonstration and a firsthand account of the engineering challenges involved in maneuvering a robot around on Mars. Also pictured are (from left) students Pradosh Kharel, Nathaniel Stein, Dagmawi Gebreselasse and Adam Cooperberg.