Lunar rover project to be featured at NASA forum

Luminosity Lab collaborated with Interplanetary Laboratory on project sparked by NASA BIG Idea Challenge

November 10, 2022

When the the lunar rover nicknamed Charlotte makes its debut at the NASA 2022 BIG Idea Forum next week, it will be the culmination of months of work done by the Luminosity Lab team in collaboration with the Interplanetary Laboratory.

The Interplanetary Laboratory is a one-stop shop providing access to experts, equipment and facilities that groups need to complete their most ambitious research requiring spacecraft hardware and space environmental design, analysis and test. Lab staff working on Charlotte Lab staff members test lunar rover Charlotte in lunar regolith. Photo courtesy of Interplanetary Laboratory Download Full Image

That’s why the Luminosity Lab approached the Interplanetary Laboratory’s team about working together on Charlotte, a project sparked from a NASA BIG Idea Challenge.

Charlotte is a six-legged lunar rover meant to be tethered to a lander while it roams and collects samples. It is designed to carry Mastcam-Z. Arizona State University's Jim Bell led the development of Mastcam-Z as the principal investigator for NASA's Perseverance rover. Under the direction of Bell, Malin Space Science Systems designed and built the camera.

Over the summer, the Luminosity team used the Interplanetary Lab’s testing capabilities to advance the project. The two groups previously worked together to conduct environmental testing on Velos, another project that sprung from a NASA BIG Idea challenge.

"The Luminosity Lab's creativity has challenged us to expand the types of environments we can test to. They initially asked us to test Velos at lunar temperatures. Then they came back and asked us to create a 64-square-foot lunar sandbox for traction testing — challenge accepted," said Joe DuBois, senior engineer at the Interplanetary Initiative.

A big draw to the Interplanetary Laboratory is the staff working there. Ashley Lepham and Chandler Hutchens, student lab workers nicknamed “lifeguards” for their essential role in managing the lab, lent their expertise to the project.

Lepham designed a sandbox filled with simulated lunar regolith, which is loose moon rock and dust, in which to test the traction of Charlotte’s feet. The sandbox also includes a trapeze system to simulate the reduced gravity of the moon and more accurately simulate the expected conditions on the moon. 

Hutchens built a custom cold and heating chamber, which they used for thermal testing and thermal cycling. Using liquid nitrogen, he was able to cool the bottom of the rover’s foot to cryogenic temperatures. Testing with these extreme temperatures reduces the risk that something might go wrong in the eventual mission.

Another way that the Interplanetary Laboratory team reduced the risk in the rover design was by testing the durability of the tether that provides power to the rover from the base station. A test chamber that tested the effects of rubbing against rocks and sharp objects on the lunar surface was built by designing a custom motor that would rub the actual tether over a rock with simulated regolith until the tether broke. This was repeated several times to ensure that accurate data was taken.

Charlotte’s big test comes on Nov. 15, when the team presents at the NASA 2022 BIG Idea Forum. The BIG Idea Forum is the final culminating activity in each team’s challenge participation. The livestream for Charlotte will run from 2:10 to 3 p.m. PT. Following the event, NASA will publish a feature story on announcing the winner of the forum on Friday, Nov. 18. The link will be posted on the BIG Idea Challenge website

The work the student lifeguards are able to do at the Interplanetary Laboratory on this project and others drives not only partnerships, but their future career opportunities.

“In some of the interviews I was in, I brought up that I was part of this project and how I went about taking what the customer wanted and performing it. It showed that I could adapt and be cost effective and timely, which is what employers are looking for,” said Chandler Hutchens, senior aerospace engineering student and student lab lifeguard.

The Interplanetary Laboratory is a shared resource available to faculty and students at ASU as well as external academic groups and industry partners. To inquire about using the lab’s facilities, contact Joe DuBois at or Danny Jacobs at

Sally Young

Senior Communications Specialist, Interplanetary Initiative

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Writers envision the next 75 years of science policy

November 10, 2022

A new book of essays provides inspiring science, technology ideas that can transform society

Featured writers in a new book were given a major mission — to envision future science policies and share them with the world. 

Book cover for "The Next 75 Years of Science Policy"

“The Next 75 Years of Science Policy” presents a wide range of visions for how science might serve society in the coming years. Released in September, the book showcases a collection of nearly 50 powerful essays that authors hope will provide inspiring ideas that can transform society.

“The essays presented a kind of a kaleidoscope of how to use the resources of science over the coming century,” said Lisa Margonelli, editor-in-chief for Issues in Science and Technology, which originally published the essays. “Some writers wanted to change a basically successful system by giving it a few tweaks. Others had really revolutionary ideas.”

The volume has a forward-looking theme, with everyone from scientists and government officials to up-and-coming researchers and business leaders contributing their public policy ideas for the future. 

Lindy Elkins-Tanton, vice president of the Arizona State University Interplanetary Initiative, contributed the essay "Time to Say Goodbye to Our Heroes?" It makes the case for replacing the principal investigator research model with a more interdisciplinary approach. 

ASU President Michael Crow penned the foreword and introduction to the book, along with Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academies of Sciences, and Cynthia Friend, president of the Kavli Foundation. The foundation supported the book’s editing and publication. 

All of the essays were original published during the past two years in the journal Issues in Science and Technology, an engaging, intellectual platform where researchers, policymakers and business leaders share their ideas related to science and technology, creating a dialogue that has impacted U.S. and global public policy. The publication is a partnership between ASU and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

ASU News spoke with Margonelli about the new book.

Editor's note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Question: Where did the idea for the book come from? 

Answer: In 2020, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and ASU were approached by the Kavli Foundation to look back at the last 75 years of science policy and get engaged thinkers to contemplate how we should set science policy for the next 75 years. 

The way we invest in science in this country all comes from a very influential report titled "Science, The Endless Frontier." It was written about 75 years ago — in 1945 — by the late Vannevar Bush, director of what was then the Office of Scientific Research and Development and sent to former President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The ideas in that memo set the pattern for how we invest in science and technology in this country. So with the book, we tried to imagine how the next 75 years could look. 

Q: How were contributors to the book selected?

A: Some are people who've been big players in science policy for a really long time — people like Norman R. Augustine and Neal Lane, who have put out highly influential white papers and really changed the focus of policy and competitiveness over the years — as well as leaders at the National Science Board such as astronaut Ellen Ochoa. And some thinkers who were influential scientists but hadn’t written much about science policy before — like ASU’s Lindy Elkins Tanton.

And then, some of the contributors are up-and-coming people with fresh ideas. We were looking for a diversity of thoughts and perspectives. We tried to build a really big tent to have the biggest possible discussion about what kind of future we want and how we might get there.

Q: What were some of the urgent or important issues that the book brought to light?

A: There is a really insightful piece called "Stuck in 1955, Engineering Education Needs a Revolution" by Sheryl Sorby, Norman L. Fortenberry and Gary Bertoline. They questioned the way engineers are educated, which is still based on a template developed in 1955 — a philosophy of winnowing out students through certain foundational classes. And so, the people who become engineers have to make it through that particular maze.

What that means is that you only have a certain kind of problem-solver and you won't have a diverse crowd there — and they may not be able to solve some of today’s complex socio-technical problems. That article generated a lot of conversation and led to a virtual conversation with hundreds of participants. 

And then we had an inspiring piece, "Creating a New Moral Imagination for Engineering," from ASU’s Darshan Karwat, a young scholar at ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society, who wants engineering to develop a sense of moral imagination, which is really important for connecting the discipline with younger scientists and people who are interested in changing the world

Q: The essays in the book come from the publication Issues in Science and Technology. How and why was Issues created?

A: Issues was created by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in 1984. It was started as a way of bringing new perspectives and conversations to democratic decision-making. ASU became a full partner in the magazine in 2013.

The difference between us and an academic journal is pretty straightforward — academic journals really speak from one academic to another. They are a closed discussion within experts. We are having a wider, broader discussion. We bring lots and lots of different people to the discussion. We try to make our discussions interdisciplinary and very accessible. We also invite decision makers and business people into the conversation.

And we're not peer reviewed. This is a journal of opinion and we work with every author to make their argument as strong as possible.

We are not like other technology magazines, which are likely to have articles like "Six Technologies that are Going to Change the World." Instead we have something like seven big questions we should ask about virtual reality. Tech magazines tend to see technology as an inevitable force, whereas we see it as something that is continually shaped by policies and human values. 

And one of the things that's really key to our vision, which animates me and the whole incredible Issues team, is that we really believe that policies for science and technology need to be designed for the betterment of society. 

Q: The book is forward-looking. How do you hope it will direct the course of science and technology related policies over the next 75 years?

A: My big hope is that we stop talking about science and technology policies purely in the sense of where the money goes and start talking about the world we intend to create. We know that we can really help young scientists by supporting them better  and we can work with interdisciplinary teams to solve big problems, so we can build on some of the policies that were incredibly successful over the last 75 years and adopt new methods for even greater success in the future. 

And finally, we hope to inspire more conversation and vision about how to use the tools of science and technology to really create better lives for more people.

Top photo courtesy iStock

Dolores Tropiano

Reporter , ASU News