NASA reveals 'lunar sandbox' it uses to simulate the moon

With no significant atmosphere or particles in the air to scatter sunlight, light on the moon is distributed much differently than it is here on Earth, giving rise to extreme dark patches offset by ultra-bright regions.

This phenomenon, coupled with the presence of moon dust, presents a challenge for future lunar rovers and even human exploration, according to NASA.

To work around this, scientists have created a ‘lunar sandbox’ that simulates the conditions on the moon, allowing them to develop algorithms that can guide their robots safely around the environment.

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With no significant atmosphere, or particles to scatter sunlight, light on the moon is distributed much differently than it is here on Earth, giving rise to extreme dark patches offset by ultra-bright regions

THE LUNAR SANDBOX 

The Lunar lab is a 12-foot square sandbox in which researchers build the moon’s terrain using statistically-generated features based on spacecraft observations.

It contains eight tons of the human-made lunar soil simulant JSC-1A.

To create the features of the lunar surface, including craters, ripples and boulder fields, the researchers use hand tools and rocks.

They also build a ‘fluffy’ top later to erase the shovel and brush marks.

The team also sets up solar simulator lights all around the lab, creating low-angle, high-contrast illumination that mimics the conditions on the moon.

‘What you get on the Moon are dark shadows and very bright regions that are directly illuminated by the sun – the Italian painters in the Baroque period called it chiaroscuro – alternating light and dark,’ said Uland Wong, a computer scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.

‘It’s very difficult to be able to perceive anything for a robot or even a human that needs to analyze these visuals, because cameras don’t have the sensitivity to be able to see the details that you need to detect a rock or a crater.’

The researchers at NASA’s Ames Research Center use a 12-foot square sandbox dubbed the Lunar Lab, with which they build the moon’s terrain using statistically-generated features based on spacecraft observations, according to NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute.

The Lunar Lab contains eight tons of the human-made lunar soil simulant JSC-1A.

To create the features of the lunar surface, including craters, ripples and boulder fields, the researchers use hand tools and rocks.

The researchers at NASA’s Ames Research Center use a 12-foot square sandbox dubbed the Lunar Lab, with which they build the moon’s terrain using statistically-generated features based on spacecraft observations

The researchers at NASA’s Ames Research Center use a 12-foot square sandbox dubbed the Lunar Lab, with which they build the moon’s terrain using statistically-generated features based on spacecraft observations

They also build a ‘fluffy’ top later to erase the shovel and brush marks.

‘We’re building these analog environments here and lighting them like they would look on the Moon with solar simulators, in order to create these sorts of appearance conditions,’ said Wong.

‘We use a lot of 3-dimensional imaging techniques, and use sensors to create algorithms, which will both

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