Watch the New Moon Rover in Action

The prototype for NASA’s new moon buggy will be part of the inauguration day parade on January 20 when Barack Obama becomes the new president of the US. The space agency is hoping the new president — and the rest of the viewing audience — will be impressed with the new concept for roving across the lunar surface. At the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C., astronaut Mike Gerhardt will show off the rover’s capabilities of gliding smoothly, pirouetting and walking like a crab. Last Friday, NASA had a “test run” of the parade, showcasing the rover in a demonstration at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Watch a video from the Houston Chronicle to see the rover in action. Reportedly, the rover will bring up the rear of the parade and hopefully provide a lasting impression on the new president. Just what can this rover do?

In October 2008, NASA tested the rover and several other new concepts in a desert in Arizona (see related article.) The Small Pressurized Rover, has a module on top of a rover chassis where the crew can sit inside in a shirt-sleeves environment as they drive the vehicle. The wide windows provide a full view for the astronauts, making unobstructed observations easy from inside the rover. NASA is thinking the SPR could be the astronauts’ main mode of transportation on the Moon, and could also allow them the flexibility to work inside of it without the restrictions imposed by spacesuits.

The SPR during the October desert test.  Credit: NASA
The SPR during the October desert test. Credit: NASA

The adaptable vehicle features pivoting wheels that enable crab style movement to help the rover maneuver through difficult spots. Early concepts provide an exercise ergometer that allow crews to exercise while driving and simultaneously charge the vehicle’s batteries. The rover provides spacesuits, easily accessible from inside the rover whenever the astronauts need to get out of the rover.

Top speed is 15 mph, but engineers said it outpaced Hummers, trucks and Jeeps as it crossed lava flows in the Arizona desert.

According to the Houston Chronicle, at the end of the parade when the rover reaches President Barack Obama’s box, Gernhardt will stop the rover, and he and astronaut Rex Walheim, one of two people in white spacesuits attached to the rear of the buggy, will step away from the rover.

Then, carrying an American flag, he’ll stride several paces toward Obama, halt and salute the new president, ending the parade.

Said Walheim: “I hope he sees that NASA is looking forward, that we have some really exciting ideas on how to handle lunar exploration. I think he may get excited about it, too.”

Source: Houston Chronicle

26 Replies to “Watch the New Moon Rover in Action”

  1. With the media channels and discussions maxed out with news of the financial shenanigans, Gaza, and now the Bush – Obama transition, I expect a little unspoken demonstration will be in order.

    Salacious B. Crumb says it is symbolism and we need to “do it”. Man (or are you a droid ?), what could be more doing it than an actual working Moon Rover ? It looks very futuristic, and very now to me.

  2. This presidential doctrine of divine right of the American political system never was more obvious before Mr. Obama. Hail Caesar, or what?

    “I hope he sees that NASA is looking forward, that we have some really exciting ideas on how to handle lunar exploration. I think he may get excited about it, too.”

    What a crap! It is time that every single State of the United States is allowed to build its own space agency. And that they can build alliances among each other without restrictions by the central government for their mutual benefit and the benefit of space exploration.

    If not, then at least the Moon program and the Mars program both should be disengaged from the rest of NASA and should become an independent agency to act as sole agent with a sole destination: Moon and Mars.

  3. Looks great, but also very heavy. I wonder what the mass of this prototype is…

    Boy it would look nice on Mars also 🙂

    A smart president (Obama for example) should know that a mission to Mars would motivate the public, create thousands of new high quality jobs, and cost less than 350 billion dollars.

    If all goes well for the next two years, if Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, and the economy shows signs of recovery, we should decide to attempt mars in the 2020 or 2022 launch windows.

    Tax cuts do not trickle down very well, but aerospace jobs do.

  4. The article says;
    “According to the Houston Chronicle, at the end of the parade when the rover reaches President Barack Obama’s box, Gernhardt will stop the rover, and he and astronaut Rex Walheim, one of two people in white spacesuits attached to the rear of the buggy, will step away from the rover.
    Then, carrying an American flag, he’ll stride several paces toward Obama, halt and salute the new president, ending the parade.”

    Symbolism might be powerful (and so is competition) but the one thing that carries more weight is actually doing it. The pitiful way the US economy is going, perhaps these only remain as ‘pipe dreams’, and will surely be put on hold until things are set right. Based on the huge economic bailouts of US financial companies and the auto car makers, there will likely be little funds available for such dramatic pushes to the Moon. This has been made worst by the drain of monies that have gone into the Iraqi war – hurting both the US economy and its long term development. (Why go to the Moon, when even basic medical care can no longer be afforded by nearly half of its citizenry – the sure sign of a faulting economy) I doubt manned America missions will happen before 2030 at best.
    Hell, even the infrastructure to do the missions are in doubt.
    Are not the International Lunar Network (ILN) missions to be delayed due to cost cutting from the planned 2013 and. 2014 (followed by the second phase in 2016-2017) by several years to a decade just because of the economical down turn. This suggests this important network won’t even be available until at least 2020, if not or later. Without this network, all alleged communication with the Earth could not be feasible for any manned exploration by anyone (US and non-US missions).
    More likely, it will be the Chinese taikonauts who will be next exploring the Moon. Looking at the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP), an unmanned rover should be on the Moon by 2011 or 2012 – nearing the end of Obama’s term in office.By 2017, near the end of Obama’s second term, the Chinese will be developing a heavy payload rocket for manned missions by 2020. Other countries like Japan, Germany, South Korea and India by then will also be in is hot pursuit.
    Of course all these countries have the same underlying alliterative motive – that is the plentiful resources of the lunar soil, for their own country’s expansion to support their ever expanding economies in an attempt to counter the world’s dwindling supplies of raw materials to drive it.
    As for these American lunar rovers only one thing comes to mind – well gosh they look so darn ugly. Aesthetics might be trivial, but it sets the path towards the future where design is both practical and visionary. If that is the best publicity the NASA and the US can drum up, then maybe NASA should join the military – who already know that “how one looks” goes a long way to winning a war before even the first shot is fired.
    IMO both NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) and the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) need a rocket up them – literally.

  5. I’m fairly certain that the demonstration for Obama has been cancelled, due to security policy.

  6. DJ Barney
    You have a point, but with two large and cumbersome vehicle like that, well how you going to get it there? Where is the launch vehicle? Where is all this infrastructure to go to the Moon?
    Much of it I think you will find is still on the drawing board.
    Hence the display here remains mere symbolism – of the American Space Program dreams – until it is actually implemented.
    The American economy and financing the space program is the greatest restriction on these heady plans not the hardware (or lack thereof…

  7. NASA should lead the way and set a good example to be used in the space industry and other industries that make vehicles of all kinds – they should release the carbon footprint of the moon rover alongside detailed studies of its impact and suggestions on how it can be reduced. A separate study assessing the forthcoming damage to the lunar environment should be included.
    Perhaps a task force could be created.

  8. bse5150, first release a carbon footprint on your idea. Then we can measure stupidity and how it affects the environment more accurately. We can also use laugh-o-meter for negative readings.

  9. bse5150

    NASA’s Moon rover is BATTERY ELECTRIC–the most efficient propulsion system ever created–and it’s zero emissions too.

    When on the moon, it will be solar powered. So it won’t hurt the endangered Lunarian fruit-bat at all.

  10. Why do I get this inexplicable feeling that TrustMe, who weighed in on other articles this evening, and bse5150, represented on this one, are either Siamese twins or part of a team of Annoyance Ninjas out to terrorize Universe Today? :-/

  11. Schulz,

    But the vehicle to get it there, the factories to make that vehicle, and all the supporting personnel are very much carbon-positive! And the battery will probably be left behind to ruin the pristine lunar environment. Let’s pollute all the planets the way we’ve polluted ours – in the name of science!

  12. RetardedFishFrog said;
    “Hey Crumby – Don’t count the Americans out just yet.”

    Too right for words. For all my negative rhetoric here, the historic American approach on many issues has been is they are slow on the uptake, yet once started to at least be resolute enough to committed to the project and in the end get the job done. (like rally “Yes we can” speech Obama’s after winning the election) I.e. WWI and WWII, the goal of getting to the Moon the first time, etc.
    The real silly thing, as highlighted prominently in this story, is the amount of unnecessary hype and spin needed just to motivate others towards some unrealistic rallying point. Sure it is something to be proud of, but put the achievement in perspective, and save the true fanfare should be we you enact the mission.
    This is exactly the same a G.W. Bush’s presumed biggest mistake in office of the “Mission Accomplished” banner on that aircraft carrier – putting the cart before the horse – when the real task in Iraqi had only just begun. As G.W. said himself; “we were sending the wrong message.” In this case, this unnecessary pandering to Obama is doing exactly the same thing.
    No. When all the pieces are in place, I and the rest of the world will too will stand together and applaud with you and what America has achieved.
    In the end, the delusion with wearing rose coloured glasses all the time, is that after a while you know what your seeing is not real and avoids what is truthful.
    In the end, I might be rancid butter, but I’m at least on your side of the bread.

  13. This is a very good example of primary design. The overall size and weight will have been set by the project system designers. So we do not have any basis for criticising the shape of the rover. Someone set a target for a system that included a need for a vehicle and these people have come up with their ideas to fulfil the design requirements. No, nothing is perfect. Yes, anyone can see there are going to be a variety of ways to implement the overall mission. But until you get to this point, no one can see the reality. You must go through these exercises to get at the specifics. personally I am hesitant about the space suits. If anything goes wrong with the system of access to the suits, the people INSIDE are stuffed. So I believe that we will see a change to this design to ensure that no one ever removes a suite when not under normal air pressure conditions. That seems to me the only way to ensure that no one ever is placed in danger from a mishap with the suite access systems. However, I do understand why they would want to leave the suits outside as we are told that dust is a major problem for the future. So they would have to do a lot of work to convince us that they have covered all possible scenarios with suite entry and exit. A pressurised porch would fit the bill here.

    Completing a design to a working prototype is to be applauded. Very well done.

    If the people pay the overall tax costs of the exercise, then they have a right to see what they paid for. Symbolism is important. I am sure Your new President, Barack Obama, is cognisant of the need to show respect for such fine work.

  14. bse5150: “A separate study assessing the forthcoming damage to the lunar environment should be included.

    The moon was most time THE “reference element” for earthly environmental polution, because the worst case was always thought as that earth might once look like the moon.

    Or, e.g., bombed-out cities were compared to the surface of the moon. The Gobi Dessert is a fragile biosphere compared to the surface of the moon.

    But go ahead, bse5150, and pile it on!

    On the other hand, several environmental topics need to be considered also on the moon. For example, if ever water ice would be discovered on the moon then this resources would be of such a high value for every temporary or permanent human settlement. To effectively regulate its exploitation/waste/pollution would be of highest priority, because the availability of water in space is a key question for men. Its availability decides on how far beings will ever reach. And therefore it would require strict protection agains any careless handling.

    Nevertheless, bse5150 hopefully will not march right behind Gernhardt and Walheim, waving banners in front of Obama, saying “Stop moon exploration NOW!”

  15. The infrastructure is Ares V… Its the heavy lifters that form the foundation for just about everything in the new moon program. Second most important is Altair.
    Landing odd shaped cargo on the moon I think is a more trivial thing once you’ve got those two elements working. The lander could essentially be a stripped down one-way Altair frame with one or two rovers strapped to it. It just has to touch down near a normal lander and the work begins.

    My only two questions are how much mileage can we expect out of a vehicle, and is there any provision made for servicing these things to extend that range?

    It would seem a shame to only drive them a few miles before having to park the whole thing up… making the first auto junkyard on the moon.

  16. can you do something to try to save the earth if you are a child. i’m just wondering.thank you very much for all of your sopport.

  17. Most of the readers here probably don’t remember a 1959 Japanese movie, “Battle in Outer Space.” It had two un-pressurized rovers that look quite a lot like this new real one.

  18. Trust NASA to do a half-assed job…

    (1) NO ARMS!!!!! I don’t think there is a submersible BUILT these days that doesn’t have arms and a sample basket, at least, so that sample collection can done in situ: just reach out and pick it (what-ever “it” is…) and put it in the basket (or bucket or what-ever)

    Or deposit a marker or instrument of some sort on the surface of the moon.

    Or look at something up close: a camera mounted on the “wrist” to allow a close-up look at what you intend to pick up, or to allow the people inside to see what was blocking the door and (hopefully) be able to do something about it… Or even show the crew of veh A what veh B was seeing, etc.

    (Just think how useful cell phone cameras are…)

    All this while NOT having to get out just to turn over a potentially interesting rock. I’m not talking about Waldoing complicated operations here – just the simple stuff.

    (2) Why is the passenger compartment so small? Are there fold-down cots or something for these people to sleep in? Also – with so little room it looks to be a uni-sex operation here…

    (3) And what about a living/cargo trailer? Something with more room and spare/extra/more consumables that could be towed to an interesting area and parked while “side trips” or “day trips” could be made, returning to the MOVEABLE “home base” at night and for re-supply.

    In fact, this way there could be two shifts: one roaming around and the other getting some sack time.

    It could also have large FOLDABLE power cell arrays – things that you wouldn’t want to have deployed while in motion but which could collect a lot of power when extended while the vehicle is stationary.

    This could easily extend the range/duration of the whole system and provide shade for the trailer and anything parked “under” it, reducing the heat load and easing (somewhat) the engineering problems.

    (4) Okay, okay: this is only version 1.0… But has anyone done any REAL thinking about what could be done with the basic concept?

  19. From the video from the Houston Chronicle, Mike Gernhardt describes the suitport feature. One opens a door inside the vehicle, then opens the back hatch of the suit and literally steps into the suit, closes the hatches, depressurizes the small vestibule between them, and ten minutes later one stands on the outside. This principle would also reduce the contamination of the inside of the vehicle with lunar dust. But what about aeroembolism?

  20. [i]Looks great, but also very heavy. I wonder what the mass of this prototype is[/i]…

    And with 12 wheels there are 12 chances of breakdown and with 6 steering mechanisms 6 chances of total immobilisation.
    The sun room in front(windows) would cook anything inside
    The weight alone would stop it from being launched.
    Some thing based on the original moon rover with extended rang and perhaps spare oxygen would be a lot more practical.

    My opinion as an electrical car designer from the 1980s is that it is a design joke.

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