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The next time man lands on the moon, he’ll have a brand new set of wheels. As NASA prepares for a 2020 mission that will put a man on the moon for the first time since 1972, a new generation of concept vehicles are being dreamed up to meet the needs of lunar exploration.
The first-ever lunar truck, now in development, is a “tricked out” version with gold trim. It features an active suspension and six-wheel drive with independent steering for each wheel. The design also abandons some earthly considerations, such as windows, doors and seats. The astronaut stands at a driver’s perch where a control board operates the multi-wheel steering, designed for the steep inclines and uneven terrain of the moon’s craters.
The truck has been designed to carry some very important cargo that will allow the lunar posts to be mobile. “The payload will be a lunar habitat, a laboratory module, living quarters or life support,” NASA spokesperson Stephanie Schierholz explains. The ability to transport these tools is a major advancement for the study of the moon’s surfaces, since it allows astronauts to take their base camps with them as they collect samples, mine lunar soil and otherwise put together the clues about the time when planets were formed.
Lunar rovers of various types, from a Winnebago-style habitat-hauler to ones with survey and topography capabilities and other multi-purpose vehicles, are also among the prototypes. All are designed to be used on extended stay missions, including the ultimate goal of establishing a long-term moon base that could lead to a permanent outpost there.
The enthusiasm among NASA folks about the vehicles and their mission is palpable. “We are very excited about going back to the moon,” Schierholz says. “We think the American people will get excited, too.”