Johnson Space Center, Houston
NASA Rover in Inaugural Parade
HOUSTON--In the months since it was unveiled, NASA’s latest moon rover concept has covered a lot of ground. Up simulated Martian hills, down simulated lunar craters. Through real dust storms and across lava flows.
But on Jan. 20, it’ll attempt something totally new: the streets of Washington D.C., crowded with the hundreds of thousands of people expected to be in town for President-elect Barack Obama’s inaugural parade.
The Lunar Electric Rover was chosen from a record 1,382 parade applications to not only take part in the parade, but to bring up the rear as the parade’s finale.
“We thought about parades before, but we never thought to aim as high as the inaugural parade,” said Rob Ambrose, the human robotics systems project lead for NASA’s Exploration Technology Development Program. “We’re very honored. We are also very excited to show the public the new machines that NASA is developing for exploration.”
The team of Johnson Space Center engineers and scientists behind the concept have said from the beginning that they wanted the vehicle to be “America’s rover” – they wanted the LER, as it’s called for short, to be a symbol of the work that NASA’s doing as the agency prepares to return to the moon.
And everyone seems to agree that the LER is eye catching. Twelve wheels on six steering columns, each of which can raise or lower to go over obstacles or give the crew inside a closer look at interesting features on the lunar surface. And each of which can turn a full 360 degrees, allowing the rover to go forward, backward, sideways, in a circle or anything in between.
But that’s just the beginning. The cockpit holds everything two people would need to head off on a 14-day expedition, miles away from a moon base: driver’s seats that fold into beds, water for drinking and rehydrating food, a toilet and plenty of curtains to provide privacy. Plus, attached to a suitport on the back – where the crew can get in and out without bringing the lunar dust back in with them – are two spacesuits, ready for a moonwalk at almost a moment’s notice.
That innovation alone could cut the preparation time for spacewalks from hours to minutes. And other innovations could help a little closer to home. The development of the rover led to new technologies in batteries, fuel cells, advanced regenerative brakes and tires. These are all the same technologies that are required for electric vehicles here on Earth – the cars, tractors and heavy equipment that the United States needs to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels.
For instance, the LER is a plug-in electric vehicle with a cutting-edge Lithium-ion battery. With the batteries NASA is developing, an Earth-based electric sedan could travel 500 miles before needing to be recharged.
But for now, the rover just needs to make it the almost two miles that the parade route winds through downtown Washington D.C. “This is an exclamation point on the hard work and vision of our team,” said astronaut Mike Gernhardt, who will drive the rover during the parade and is the LER project manager. “The LER is the culmination of a lot of great work by a very talented team, and it will demonstrate our vision of the new lunar program to our new president.”
For photos, video and more information on the Lunar Electric Rover, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/home/LER.html
For more information on NASA, visit: http://www.nasa.gov
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