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Lunakhod: the First Extraterrestrial Robot

Samuel Bouchard
by Samuel Bouchard. Last updated on May 05, 2016 4:30 PM
Posted on Feb 18, 2008 12:41 PM. 2 min read time

We know that the Soviets sent the first satellite, the first animal and the first human into space. The robotics component of their conquest of space is much less well-known, but no less impressive. In the 1960s, while the USA devoted their energies to landing a man on the Moon, the Soviets based their mission on Lunakhod. These mobile robots, remote-controlled from Earth between 1970 and 1973, travelled dozens of kilometres and collected valuable images and scientific data on our natural satellite.

Sending a robot to another world and controlling it was not successfully repeated until 1996 by the Mars Pathfinder team. Though spectacular, especially considering the era, the Lunakhod program’s achievements are little known because it remained top secret for many years.

Here is an amazing documentary on this cold war background story (parts1, 2, 3 and 4). It ends with the engineering team’s ultimate exploit: adapting their lunar robot design in three months to create a remote-controlled robot to help clean nuclear Reactor 3's roof after the Chernobyl disaster.

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Samuel Bouchard
Written by Samuel Bouchard
Samuel is CEO and co-founder of Robotiq. His mission is to free human hands from repetitive tasks. He is also the author of Lean Robotics: A Guide to Making Robots Work in Your Factory. He lives in Québec City with his wife and four children.
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