Rover Revealed: Secret Mars Robot Test to be Webcast

A top-secret Mars rover test will be exposed Aug. 19 when NASA allows a film crew from San Francisco’s Exploratorium to do a live webcast of a prototype robot poking around the desert somewhere in the American West. The Exploratorium is an interactive museum that also conducts astronomy webcasts from around the world. While the crew members know where they are headed, the site remains a secret to the public and even to most NASA scientists and engineers, officials involved in the project told The secrecy keeps potential onlookers away, but more important it allows truly blind tests of remote operation systems. Scientists back at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have no specific knowledge of the test location’s Mars-like terrain, so they are forced to operate the rover in conditions that simulate running a robot around the Red Planet. The trials inform engineers how best to design the hardware and software for two Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) that are slated for launch in 2003. A prototype called FIDO (Field Integrated Design & Operations) is used in the desert.