After 65 years of lunar exploration, the United States is finally going to put its first autonomous rover on the moon. But this mission won’t be helmed by NASA engineers — instead, it is the brainchild of a dedicated group of college students.
The Iris rover was developed by students, faculty and alumni at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania over the span of three years. It is being carried to the moon as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, the agency’s foray into partnering with the commercial space industry. Initially, it was scheduled to launch in late 2021 or early 2022, but setbacks in NASA’s moon agenda delayed the launch to this spring.
In addition to Iris, the Carnegie Mellon team plans to send along an art installation called the MoonArk, a tiny time capsule filled with poems, music, pictures and small objects. The project is meant to convey a narrative “that is moving to people now, but also 1,000 years down the road,” Dylan Vitone, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon and MoonArk director said in a statement. A second, identical ark is currently on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
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