Earth, this is NASA. Can you please send us some ideas for designing the next moon rover. Over. Last week, NASA announced it is preparing for its latest moon landing by extending an olive branch to the auto industry to design its next lunar rover.
As NASA ramps up the Artemis lunar exploration program, which will welcome a new era of moon exploration, the agency is turning to American auto companies to problem-solve the best way to get around the lunar surface.
Will it be, ground control to Major Elon?
Yes, if we’re talking an earth-based auto designer adapting to the moon, Tesla is the obvious first choice that comes to mind. Have you seen the recently unveiled Cybertruck? Where the hell else, but the moon, does this EV look better adapted for? It’s not meant for us mere earthlings…
It seems like a no-brainer for NASA to award the design contract to Elon Musk; after all, he is the man behind SpaceX. NASA states it is looking for a vehicle that is both electric and autonomous. (Two boxes checked in Tesla’s favor.)
“We are turning to industry to offer us exciting approaches to leverage existing systems here on Earth, including law enforcement, military or recreational vehicles, that could be modified for use in space to enhance our mobility architecture,” NASA’s deputy associate administrator for exploration, Steve Clarke, stated on the agency’s site.
NASA’s plan for the Artemis program is to land an exploration team back on the moon by 2024—with the overall goal of collaborating with commercial and international partners to establish sustainable exploration by 2028. The new lessons learnt during this upcoming lunar exploration will be taken to the next level when NASA sends astronauts to Mars. (Though Mars seems to already have its shizzle together when it comes to the rover department.)
And one of those lessons will be getting around the moon’s moon-rock-laden surface. And that requires the right vehicle.
Still, NASA already has a jump on the process; we’ve been to the moon before. Engineers started working on lunar cars in the early 1960s. One problem with these early models? Their designs were all guesswork, since no one had yet traveled to the moon. You were dealing with a lunar module with limited storage space, thus the vehicle had to be collapsible. A mesh wheel was created to be adaptable to the uncertain terrain. Yes, they reinvented the un-reinventable wheel.
Maybe you are an auto designer who wants to throw his or her lunar vehicle hat into the arena? If so, NASA has set up an official page, trumpeting the criteria it is looking for.
In official NASA language:
NASA requires a human-class rover that will extend the exploration range of Extravehicular Activity (EVA)-suited crewmembers on the surface of the Moon. NASA refers to this mobility capability as the Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV). NASA has identified key LTV-required capabilities that may also have potential commercial applications. These include electric vehicle systems (e.g., energy storage, energy management and distribution, recharging), autonomous driving in high contrast lighting conditions and hazardous terrain, and extreme environment tires and possibly many others. NASA is seeking information from U.S. industry on how to approach the development of mobility capabilities with the near-term goal of launching the first LTV to the lunar surface, potentially as early as 2024.
Interested parties must turn in their moon rover ideas by March 6. So, no time to waste, time to get lunar car designing.
Maybe NASA, though, needs to think outside the box and look more towards the electric scooter industry for moon exploration? You scoop up all the irritating e-scooters that are annoying people in San Francisco and send them to the moon. It would be a win-win situation.