While you might take a water bottle and a few granola bars on your next hiking trip, astronauts walking on the moon need to be a bit more prepared. That’s why NASA has developed a new high-tech backpack for future lunar explorers.
The Kinematic Navigation and Cartography Knapsack (KNaCK) is armed with a mobile scanner that can create a 3D map of the terrain around the wearer. Utilizing the same technology that helps smart cars avoid crashing, the backpack will give astronauts a high-resolution map of the surrounding area and be able to provide them with a real-time navigation system—something that will come in handy in a truly alien world.
“Basically, the sensor is a surveying tool for both navigation and science mapping, able to create ultra-high-resolution 3D maps at centimeter-level precision and give them a rich scientific context,” Michale Zanetti, a planetary scientist who leads the KNaCK project at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, said in an agency press release.
Think of it as Google Maps on steroids. Not only will the backpack allow astronauts to chart out their course in real time, but it will also identify faraway landmarks while ensuring the “safety of astronauts and rover vehicles in GPS-denied environments such as the moon,” Zanetti said. This is especially important for astronauts, who have a limited supply of oxygen in their suits.
KNaCK will also give researchers even more insights into the geology of the lunar surface by mapping out the topography and elevation of the terrain. NASA researchers are hopeful that the backpack will reveal some new facts about the moon.
“As human beings, we tend to orient ourselves based on landmarks—a specific building, a grove of trees. Those things don’t exist on the moon,” Zanetti said. “KNaCK will continuously enable explorers traversing the surface to determine their movement, direction, and orientation to distant peaks or to their base of operations. They can even mark specific sites where they found some unique mineral or rock formation, so others can easily return for further study.”