NASA scientists and engineers are testing new technologies using the
K9 rover in a granite quarry near Watsonville, Calif., in preparation
for future missions to Mars.

The demonstration will be conducted at Graniterock’s A.R. Wilson
Quarry Site in Aromas, Calif. Scientists chose the quarry site for
the field experiment and to test its autonomous operational
capabilities in a remote, non-vegetated location. Graniterock
offered its 100-year-old quarry operation to NASA after Graniterock
learned that the space agency was looking for a site to test the

“We need to take the rover into the field, away from our own
backyard, in order to test how robust our technologies are,” said
Maria Bualat, a computer engineer at NASA Ames Research Center,
Moffett Field, Calif., who is the K9 rover project lead. “However,
the Bay Area is a lush tropical paradise compared to Mars, so we
needed to find a place that wasn’t covered in vegetation.
Graniterock was kind enough to volunteer a portion of its quarry,”
she added.

“The goal of the K9 project is to integrate and demonstrate new
robotic technologies that will enable NASA to meet the science goals
of future Mars missions,” said Bualat. Scientists hope to utilize new
robotic technologies during NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL)
mission anticipated in 2009.

“The whole purpose of this research project is to ensure that this
rover is as autonomous and reliable as possible. Autonomous
instrument placement capability is essential for future Mars
exploration,” said Dr. Liam Pedersen, principle investigator for the
K9 rover instrument placement project. “This is necessary to acquire
samples, determine mineralogy, obtain microscopic images and other
operations needed to understand the planet’s geology and search for
evidence of past life.”

“The United States has gained so much from the space program over the
years, and the plans to explore Mars by the end of the decade is
another significant step in advancing America’s lead in developing
and applying advanced technologies,” said Bruce W. Woolpert,
Graniterock’s president and CEO.

Developed jointly at NASA Ames and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
(JPL), Pasadena, Calif., the K9 rover is a six-wheeled, solar-powered
rover weighing 145 pounds (65 kg) that measures 63 inches (1.6 m)
high. The K9 rover is modeled after a rover named “FIDO” (Field
Integrated Design and Operations) developed at JPL about five years

Due to the limited intelligence of current planetary rovers, it takes
three martian days to complete the process of directing a rover to a
targeted rock and placing an instrument on the rock to begin
scientific analysis of it. Scientists at NASA Ames hope to be able
to accomplish that objective in a single day, thereby increasing the
efficiency of obtaining science data in future missions.

David Smith, a computer scientist at NASA Ames, leads the research
group that is responsible for developing the rover’s automated
planning and scheduling software. In previous missions, there has
been very little automation of the planning and scheduling process
for planetary rovers, according to Smith.

“What’s unique about this software that is being developed at NASA
Ames is that it generates contingency plans to provide an alternative
that can be executed when things go wrong,” Smith said. “There is a
great deal of uncertainty in operating a robotic system on Mars, so
you need to be able to consider alternatives. By having options
available, you increase the science return.”

“NASA near-term Mars missions have very ambitious science goals that
will require high levels of autonomy onboard the robot,” said Bualat.
“Our goal is to have a ‘smart robot’ that we can send off to Mars in
2009 that will take care of itself.”

The K9 rover project’s annual cost of approximately $1 million is
funded jointly by the Intelligent Systems project under the
Computing, Information and Communications Technology (CICT) program
administered by NASA’s Office of Aerospace Technology, and by the
Mars Technology Program, administered by the Office of Space Science,
NASA Headquarters, Washington.

Graniterock was founded on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, 1900. The
company has operations in Watsonville, Santa Cruz, Seaside, Salinas,
Gilroy, Hollister, Aromas, Felton, Oakland, San Jose, Redwood City
and South San Francisco. Graniterock Pavex Construction Division is
a significant heavy engineering contractor building roadways, airport
and private commercial and residential projects. Graniterock has
also been the recipient of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality
Award and the Governor’s Golden State Quality Award.

Reproduction quality images of the K9 rover are available at:

NOTE TO EDITORS AND NEWS DIRECTORS: News media representatives are
invited to observe a demonstration of Mars rover technologies at a
granite rock quarry in preparation for future missions to Mars. The
demonstration will be conducted at Graniterock’s A.R.Wilson Quarry
Site, 3723 Anzar Road, Aromas, Calif., on Tuesday, Nov. 4, from 10
a.m. to 12 p.m. PST. Please call the NASA Ames Public Affairs
Office at 650/604-3937 by noon on Monday, Nov. 3, if interested in
attending the demonstration. News media must present photo ID and
valid press credentials to gain entry. To reach the quarry, take
Highway 101 south to Route 129 west to Watsonville and take a right
onto Route 129 and an immediate left turn onto the frontage road
alongside Highway 101 (Searle Road). Drive 0.8 miles to the stop sign
and turn right onto Anzar road, continue through a winding road for
approximately 5 miles and turn left into the Anzar Gate entrance.
The quarry site is located about a mile inside the private gate.