If you are looking for the car of the future; the super car end all super cars, look no further than NASA. In fact, the American space agency has built, tested and used some of the most advanced vehicles ever designed and put them to work on the Moon and Mars in ways most of us could never ever dream of.
There were three different moon buggies used by astronauts who explored the lunar surface in the early 1970’s. These vehicles were fairly stripped down and hardly powerful. They could only boast about 1/2 horsepower of pure adrenaline and maxed out at a whopping 4 miles per hour, but they did help the astronauts explore more than 30 kilometers of lunar landscape, something which would have been impossible if they had to walk.
If you think the new autonomous cars now being road tested in Nevada and California are the cutting edge, you’d be wrong. NASA has been using autonomous roving vehicles on Mars for almost 20 years. From the little ‘Sojourner’ vehicle launched and landed successfully on the surface of Mars in 1997, to the twin rovers, ‘Spirit’ and ‘Opportunity’ which lasted years beyond their expected lifespan of ninety days. In fact, launched and landed in 2004, the rovers were still exploring last year when ‘Spirit’ became impossibly stuck in the martian soil. ‘Opportunity’ continues to explore, however.
With the successful landing this week of the latest Martian rover, ‘Curiosity’, NASA has truly outdone itself. The new rover is the size of a Mini Cooper and packs tons of instruments. A select few, highly skilled NASA engineers will be allowed to drive the new rover as it explores a huge Martian crater and mountain and searches for life.
The next time you slip behind the wheel of your vehicle, and think about just how cool it is, consider how much cooler it would be if your daily commute took across lunar or Martian soil.