NASA’s new Mars rover was unveiled last week, and that vehicle will be used in future missions to the Red Planet, with a scheduled launch date of 2020. But people appear to be more interested in a concept vehicle the space agency also previewed, one that points to the next generation of Mars rovers, and how these vehicles may look in the not-so-distant future.
An exclusive report from CBS News took a look at the futuristic rover concept, a six-wheel vehicle with a “distinctive alien design” that has people wondering what could have inspired it. NASA’s Mars rover concept, the report noted, was designed by brothers Shanon and Marc Parker, with dimensions of 11 feet tall, 24 feet long, and 13 feet wide.
According to CBS News, Shanon Parker was in charge of the design, while brother Marc took care of the “dirty work,” meaning the actual construction of the concept vehicle.
“There is almost nothing on this vehicle that was not built in our shop,” said Marc Parker.
“I mean, down to every little bracket and tab, nothing was ordered out of a catalog. We built the body, the chassis, the suspension, the wheels, the frame, the interior, the seats, the glass — everything on this vehicle had to be built completely from scratch.”
Shanon added that some of the design elements on the NASA Mars rover concept were merely there to make the vehicle “look cool,” while others were purposely included for functionality. CBS News wrote that the inside of the four-seat rover is reminiscent of an SUV, but also includes a laboratory which could theoretically be used by astronauts to perform experiments while on the Martian surface. There were also some features designed for the rover’s main purpose while on a planet’s surface — exploration. Marc Parker detailed these features and how they could help astronauts, should the concept see the light of day.
“We needed a good surface area for the rock to climb over, but then we needed a lot of surface area so when you get into the sand it’s not going to sink, but it also has these vents in it so it’s not going to clog up. So it can go through really deep sand [and] not get stuck and not get clogged up all at the same time.”
CBS News pointed out that it was more than four decades ago when NASA’s Viking One made a historic landing on Mars, making it the first unmanned landing craft to arrive on the Red Planet. But it was the Mars Pathfinder’s Sojourner that is recognized as the NASA’s first Mars rover to land and travel on the Martian surface. Caltech’s Cool Cosmos website describes it as a six-wheeled vehicle remotely controlled by an Earthbound operator, which, due to the technology of the time, had a 10-minute lag when receiving commands from the operator and sending information back to Earth.
So far, there have been seven unmanned landing vehicles that landed on Mars, with the actual next-generation Mars rover set to become the eighth in 2020, and the Curiosity rover now closing in on its fifth year on the Martian surface. But what’s to become of the concept vehicle, which will be on display at the Kennedy Center’s Journey to Mars exhibit starting today?
Although it may look cool and futuristic, NASA’s Mars rover concept will be used to “educate future scientists” about Mars. This, according to astronaut Jon McBride, may be good preparation for the future, as it may be only a few more decades before the first humans set foot on the Red Planet, possibly being “somewhere between eight and 18-years-old” at the moment.
[Featured Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via Getty Images]