Building robots for "Zero Mass" space exploration
Briefly

NASA scientists are testing the concept of zero mass exploration, which involves using self-replicating machines and reprogrammable metamaterials. The idea is that these machines can not only replicate themselves, but also sustain themselves in the environment. The technology of reprogrammable metamaterials has advanced to the point where it can make a significant portion of what is needed for space exploration. The concept of self-replicating machines was first proposed by John von Neumann in the 1940s and has evolved over the years.
"The concept of zero mass exploration is rooted in self-replicating machines, an engineering concept John von Neumann conceived in the 1940s", says Kenneth C. Cheung, a NASA Ames researcher.
One of the challenges with previous proposals for self-replicating interstellar spacecraft was the resource-intensive process of extracting and processing elements from alien worlds. However, the NASA Ames team has made progress in solving this problem by using prefabricated standardized building blocks called "voxels". These reconfigurable voxels can be transformed into engineering components with minimal resource consumption and energy requirements. This research opens up possibilities for more efficient and cost-effective space exploration.
The technology of reprogrammable metamaterials [has] advanced to the point where we can start thinking about things like that. It can't make everything we need yet, but it can make a really big chunk of what we need," says Christine E. Gregg, a NASA Ames researcher.
Read at Ars Technica
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