It won’t just be astronauts returning to the Moon in the next decade. They’re also going to be bringing their equipment, including shelters and vehicles. And NASA’s working on the ultimate off-road vehicle. It’s a six-wheel drive lunar truck reminiscent of the Mars rovers, but designed to carry astronauts and their equipment.
Oh, and you can have any colour you like, as long as it’s gold.
When designing a new vehicle for human planetary exploration, the NASA engineers threw out all their old assumptions and started from a clean slate.
“To be honest with you, it was scary when we started,” said Lucien Junkin, a Johnson robotics engineer and the design lead for the prototype rover. “They tasked us last October to build the next generation rover and challenge the conventional wisdom. The idea is that, in the future, NASA can put this side-by-side with alternate designs and start to pick their features.”
Right away, they challenged the concept that a vehicle should have 4 wheels. The Mars rovers, still going after all these years have demonstrated that 6 wheels, capable of independent steering, work well in a rough environment. And if one wheel goes, you can still get by just fine with the other 5.
With the ability to travel in any direction, the lunar truck will let the astronauts drive down into very steep craters. It can crawl down sideways, maintaining the lowest centre of gravity. It can turn around in any direction to maneuver around rocks and smaller craters.
On the Apollo rover, the astronauts couldn’t go in reverse because they couldn’t see where they were going. They couldn’t turn around or look over their shoulders like you would in a car. But with the lunar truck, the astronaut can turn completely around on the vehicle – backwards is the new forwards.
The purpose of the lunar truck is to serve as a technology demonstration. Some, all, or none of its developments will actually find their way to the final lunar surface. But until then, some engineers are going to have off-road fun, working on the unique challenges of driving on the Moon.
If you’d like to see some videos of the rover in action, check out this site.
Original Source: NASA News Release