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NASA Is Sending These 3 Cutting-Edge Mini-Rovers to Map the Moon

NASA's cooperative lunar rovers can decide things for themselves without human intervention.

By Cassidy Ward
CADRE Rover Prototypes

The 2021 science-fiction thriller Voyagers (streaming now on Peacock!) features a cast of characters adrift on a generation ship, headed to another star. When the crewmembers discover they are being chemically controlled, they descend into chaos light-years away from Earth.

When it comes to space exploration, nothing beats boots on the ground, but at least robots don't launch a violent mutiny when they find out they're puppets of something larger. The fact is, it would be better if we didn't have to send orders, allowing our astronauts and our robots to make their own decisions based on what they experience on the scene. That's the goal of NASA's upcoming CADRE program.

NASA's Autonomous CADRE Rovers Hope to Map the Surface of the Moon 

Short for Cooperative Autonomous Distributed Robotic Exploration, the CADRE program is designed as a test for a couple of new rover technologies.

RELATED: Collaborative Robot Systems Being Developed by Scientists

CADRE involves a group of three identical lunar rovers, each about the size of a carry-on suitcase, according to NASA. They'll work in concert to carry out experiments on the Moon, including a mapping exercise using visual cameras and ground-penetrating radar.

The mission is planned for launch in 2024, and the lander will touch down at the Moon's Reiner Gamma region. Once on the surface, the lander will lower the three rovers to the surface, in a less dramatic version of the Martian Skycrane maneuver that landed Curiosity and Perseverance on the Red Planet.

Once deployed, the rovers will find a nice sunny spot, unfurl their solar panels, and charge their batteries, in preparation of the work to come. One of their main objectives is to demonstrate whether a group of autonomous robots can carry out complex tasks based on a simple initial command.

Mission controllers provide a vague instruction, after which the rovers choose a leader from among themselves. That leader then breaks the broad directive into smaller tasks and assigns them. Each individual rover is responsible for deciding how to carry out its assigned task," said JPL’s Jean-Pierre de la Croix, CADRE’s principal investigator, in a statement.

RELATED: NASA developing robotic eels to explore alien worlds

As they carry out their work, they'll also move along the lunar surface in formation, sending radar signals into the ground. Those signals will bounce off of rocks and get picked up by other rovers in the formation. Together, they'll be able to build a 3D map of their environment up to 33 feet beneath the surface.

Ultimately, their job is to show that autonomous rovers can work together without human intervention, which could speed up scientific exploration on distant worlds. We can't get rid of light-speed lag, but we can reduce the number of times we need to send instructions to our robots.

Catch Voyagers, starring Ty Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp, and Colin Farrell, streaming now on Peacock!