After more than a century, steel production in Pittsburgh is all but over, leaving in its wake industries based on higher education, health care, academic research, and robots. Lots of robots. And when it comes to robots, the goal is more focused on building a framework for the future than an infrastructure from the past. And for that reason, the city has become a place where far-flung ambitions are supported and encouraged, even if the end goal is a long way off. Sometimes it’s as “far off” as the moon.

That’s where John Thornton wants to go. And while the president of the Pittsburgh-based space-robotics company Astrobotic Technology knows it might take some time to get there, he’s convinced it’s possible. The first step is to build a robot that’s designed to do the most practical things one might imagine about moon exploration: first, deliver exploratory robots to and from the lunar surface. And next, find water there.

“We call it the FedEx / UPS model,” he says, laughing a little.