A team of space scientists has been testing a new vehicle designed to explore the surface of the moon. The new lunar rover or truck, which NASA calls a "desert rat", has features and options unlike any seen before. And while the vehicle being tested is very much a prototype and still under development, US space agency officials say something like it will one day enable astronauts to explore the lunar surface for weeks at a time. VOA's Paul Sisco has more.
The battery-powered vehicle is mounted on six pairs of wheels. At a recent demonstration, the craft traversed the rocky and barren slopes in the western state of Arizona -- terrain which is similar to that on the moon. The vehicle's wheels can lift independently and will operate in any direction.
"We are testing out concepts, that came out of lunar architect studies," Doug Craig said. He is the project's Strategic Analysis Manager. "One of the primary elements of the current architecture is a small pressurized rover," Craig adds. "...Which enables the astronauts to go longer ranges, longer distances and in fact stay out for several nights away from the base."
The lunar rovers used by Apollo astronauts in the early 1970s, were essentially stripped down jeeps. This next generation vehicle will have a pressurized cabin that astronauts can live in for weeks at a time.
"Instead of having to turn around and come home every night," Michael Gernhardt explained. "I can keep going."
Also, astronauts will not have to wear clumsy space suits while inside the vehicle, only for forays outside. To put one on, the astronaut will carefully climb through an inner hatch, (and) from there, into a space suit mounted on the outside of the cab.
NASA plans to return to the moon by 2020, and begin construction of a permanent outpost there.