Saturday, October 25, 2008

Astronauts and geologists testing new lunar rover in Arizona

NASA is test driving its new prototype lunar rover somewhere in the Arizona desert. Space Fellowship (formerly the X Prize Forum) reports that a team composed of "engineers, astronauts and geologists have spent the past week testing out the Small Pressurized Rover in the 11th annual Desert RATS – or Research and Technology Studies — field tests. Two teams of one astronaut and one geologist each have been driving the rover through the Arizona desert, trying it out in two different configurations." [right, Small Pressurized Rover with a view of astronaut suitports. Credit,]

"One configuration leaves the crew members free to get on and off the rover whenever they like, but they must wear spacesuits at all times to protect them from the lunar environment. The second configuration — called the Small Pressurized Rover, or SPR — adds a module on top of the rover’s chassis that the crew can sit inside as they drive the vehicle, donning spacesuits whenever they want to get out.

"For the first week of tests, the rover has been driven on day-long trips to determine how each configuration performed. These have been some of the longest drives the prototype has ever made, but next week the group will step it up another notch or two, by going on a three-day drive through the desert in the SPR to determine how it performs and whether it’s comfortable enough for long-duration trips."

You know, I think I saw the SPR on I-10 doing about 10 mph. I figured it was just a couple of snowbirds heading to the RV campground.

Update (18:42 10-25): Today's Flagstaff Daily Sun newspaper ran a feature story on the rover test. The tests are taking place at Black Point, about 60 miles north of Flagstaff. The paper has many more photos of the rovers and spacesuits.

Update 2 (20:26 10-25): I should have realized that if NASA's involved, there are a lot more resources out there about this. The NASA EDGE blog has some excellent photos, including these two. [left, EVA suit at Black Point Lava Field, credit NASA; right, SPR, credit NASA EDGE]

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