National Geographic News
With six-wheel drive, active suspension, and computerized navigation, a new battery-powered truck being field tested this week in Arizona sounds like the next generation of sport-utility vehicles.
But when the final model rolls out in 2019, only an exclusive group of highly trained professionals will get to drive it—the next astronauts to land on the moon.
The new lunar rover, informally known as the Chariot, is a prototype being developed as part of NASA's Constellation program, which aims to put people back on the moon by 2020.
The current version combines 35 years of technological advances with lessons learned from the original "moon buggies" used during the Apollo missions of the 1970s.
One of the biggest modifications is an optional pressurized cabin that comes fully equipped with beds, a pantry, a waste-management system, and a pair of space suits, allowing astronauts to live and work "on the road" for up to two weeks.
"It's important to keep the crew happy," noted Mike Gernhardt, a veteran NASA astronaut who is helping design the Chariot at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
"As long as the food's good and the seats are comfortable, you can put up with a lot."
NASA sent up its first lunar roving vehicle—an open, four-wheeled buggy—as part of the Apollo 15 mission in 1971.
Roving crew members collected a variety of samples to bring back to Earth, including the Genesis rock, a chunk of the lunar crust believed to date back four billion years to the birth of the moon.
NASA ultimately sent four rovers to the moon during the Apollo program, and the hardy vehicles were generally hailed as successes.
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