Mining on Mars: Caterpillar + NASA

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Caterpillar’s journey in mining automation began, in part, with a mission to Mars.

“Caterpillar works with NASA on several key initiatives,” said Eric Reiners, engineering manager. “Some of the things we’ve done with NASA have included early work on remote control and automated machine features to be put to use on other planetary surfaces like Mars.”

The research and development led to a product that’s out of this world, at least for Cat customers.

“The outcomes of that work and platform were an operator center for the automated machines, and many of those design features have migrated into Cat® Command,” said Reiners.

Today, customers are using Command to put their equipment to work autonomously across the globe.

But this wasn’t the first time Caterpillar and NASA teamed up.

“It goes back to Apollo 11 in 1969. Cat generator sets provided power for the communication system that allowed Neil Armstrong’s words to be heard around the world.”

Power and automation are just the beginning, according to Reiners.

“NASA’s focus is on in-situ resource utilization.”

In-situ resource utilization (ISRU) =  the collection, processing, storing and use of materials encountered in the course of human or robotic space exploration that replace materials that would otherwise be brought from Earth.

“That’s a fancy term for … how do you use the local resources, or live off the land, so to speak,” explained Reiners.

“It means NASA intends to have a more sustained human presence on Mars and on the moon, and to do what they need, they must be able to access the local resources and develop infrastructure – this is exactly what Caterpillar helps our customers do around the world in regards to mining and infrastructure.”

What’s the bottom line for our customers?

“Our work not only benefits NASA’s mission, it benefits our own technology needs. NASA faces many of the same challenges our mining customers face – remote and hazardous conditions, limited amounts of people on the site – and this drives them for the same kind of technologies Caterpillar and our customers are looking for,” said Reiners.

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Mellissa Hopkins

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