At the next lunar crater, turn left..

Space scientists are developing a new satnav system for the Moon to stop astronauts getting lost. The new global positioning system will help keep them from driving their lunar buggies to the wrong craters.

It will look and operate a lot like the GPS device used by millions of motorists back home on planet Earth.

But instead of using satellites, the new system will rely on photos from orbit plus a network of sensors including lunar beacons and motion detectors on the buggies themselves.

It will help when manned colonies begin exploring and working on projects such as building observatories on the Moon.

NASA has awarded a $1.2 million contract to scientists at Ohio State University to develop the navigation system over the next three years. The project will be led by Professor Ron Li, who is already helping two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, to find their way around on Mars.

Professor Li said that motoring on the moon was difficult because people were used to having visual clues such as buildings or other vehicles to help them judge distances. But the moon has no such cues. Getting lost, or misjudging a distant object’s size and location would be easy, and extremely dangerous.

He said Apollo astronauts had got within a few yards of a target crater but failed to find it because of the difficult terrain. He said: “They were so close, but they had to turn back for safety’s sake.”

The new satnav – called the Lunar Astronaut Spatial Orientation and Information System – will be tested in the Mojave desert in California before astronauts return to the moon around 2020.

Picture: The lunar buggy carried to the Moon by Apollo 15 (NASA)

• What do you think? Skymania welcomes your comments and views. You can support this site by visiting Skymania’s stores in the USA, the UK, Canada and France. They are powered by Amazon so you can buy with confidence.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

Get free Skymania news updates by email

Sign up for alerts to our latest reports. No spam ever - we promise!


Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *