Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are working on adhesive gripping tools that could grapple objects such as orbital debris or defunct satellites that would otherwise be hard to handle.
The gecko gripper project was selected for a test flight through the Flight Opportunities Program of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate. As a test, researchers used the grippers in brief periods of weightlessness aboard NASA's C-9B parabolic flight aircraft in August.
The gripping system developed by Parness and colleagues was inspired by geckos, lizards that cling to walls with ease. Geckos' feet have branching arrays of tiny hairs, the smallest of which are hundreds of times thinner than a human hair. This system of hairs can conform to a rough surface without a lot of force. Although researchers cannot make a perfect replica of the gecko foot, they have put "hair" structures on the adhesive pads of the grippers.
The synthetic hairs, also called stalks, are wedge-shaped and have a slanted, mushroom-shaped cap. When the gripping pad lightly touches part of an object, only the very tips of the hairs make contact with that surface.
Also: Learn about Microgravity Storage Vessels for Cohesive Regolith.