[Now that this has happened, I can link to video from the event. It’s breathtaking!]
Just released from NASA, their new Lunar Rover will be included in the inaugural parade. And not just participating, it’ll be bringing up the rear!
From a NASA press release:
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.
“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.
Sounds like an incredible machine! Redirecting NASA’s mission to return to the moon was one thing President Bush did that was really good. Now if the new Congress will just make sure to give them proper funding in this worsening economy.
I really hope at least one of the news agencies televising the parade shows it all the way to the end!
You can check out the NASA webpage about the rover here.