Caterpillar joins the space race

In the 1998 science fiction film Armageddon, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) sought to avoid catastrophe by drilling a very deep hole in an asteroid hurtling towards Earth and blasting it in two.
Now 15 years later, drilling and mining on asteroids may be more science than fiction, with NASA and Caterpillar announcing the development of drilling and mining technologies to be used in space. 
NASA announced that Caterpillar is one of 38 companies awarded seed funds as a part of that agency?s Innovative Partner Program. The goal of the program is to create technologies for future space projects and in Caterpillar?s case to develop machines that could help with mining, grading, trenching and other operations.
{{image2-a:r-w:200}}Caterpillar is working on a concept for a multi-terrain loader for lunar surface development. The loader could be operated remotely from earth with an on-board camera or it could be pre-programmed for autonomous operation after it is off-loaded on the lunar surface.
?The way we look at it there are technologies that are needed on both the earth and the moon,? Michele Blubaugh, manager of Caterpillar?s Intelligence Technology Services explained. ?We looked at autonomous operation of equipment as being the same type of technology that could be used on the moon as well as in a mining application. We have the same end result as NASA.?
Back on earth, the same type of technology could guide machines in dangerous or toxic environments without the need for an operator.
There are two prototypes of the machine based on a Cat 287 C skid steer loader, one at Cat?s proving grounds in Illinois and the other at NASA headquarters in Texas.
A key area of exploration for NASA is mining the precious metals in large asteroids that could be worth millions of dollars. Metals like iron, nickel, titanium and platinum are crucial to fuel cell and clean-tech projects. Rare-earth elements such as lithium are used in batteries and mobile phones. 
The moon holds mineable resources such as isotope helium-3, a precious fuel source for future nuclear fusion plants.
Sources: Aggregate Research, Equipment World

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