Arizona testing for Space Rover

by Chris Bergin

British born astronaut Mike Foale and a team of NASA engineers are in Arizona testing the prototype Space Rover that will be used on the Moon and Mars.

The Rover looks nothing like its predecessor which roamed the surface of the Moon during the Apollo mission days and was driven around the Bar T Bar Ranch by Keith Splawn and Dean Eppler – near the rim of Meteor Crater in the desolate area of the State.

A 40-mile strip of craters and volcanic mountains around the area of Sunset Crater, north of Flagstaff, also played its role in the development of the Apollo program, which sent astronauts to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Now, with NASA set to return to the Moon in 2018, testing has already started on some of the hardware that will be involved. This will be the eighth straight year that NASA has used the area of research.

“These remote, extreme environments are important staging grounds for our programs,” NASA’s Kelly Humphries said to The Arizona Republic. “Take away the stray vegetation, reduce the temperature to 40 or 50 below zero and (reduce) the atmosphere and this would basically be like the moon.”

Foale, now an American and NASA’s longest serving astronaut in space, is at the testing zone to give his input from a non-engineering standpoint.

“I get appreciation out of all kinds of things, like how people get out of their suits in a dusty environment,” Foale said.

The multi-million dollar test vehicle can be operated in three ways – one with drivers on board, another by remote control from Houston and lastly by pre-determined programming.

“We also have programmed it to go around anything that is more than 18 inches higher than the surface and it also has front wheel, rear wheel drive, using both for steering,” added Frank Delgado – who was involved in the Mars Rovers that are still working well on the Red Planet. “We had a test yesterday of commands that worked well for it turning its headlights off and on,”

He also noted the rover can be used to free up astronauts for work away from the landing base – programmed to pick them up at the end of their working day.

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