Washington, Oct 24 : A new battery-powered truck, which will herald the next generation of sport-utility vehicles, might be driven by the next astronauts to land on the moon.
According to a report in National Geographic News, the new truck, which is being field tested in Arizona, US, has a six-wheel drive, active suspension, and computerized navigation, a mixture of old and new technology.
But, when the final model rolls out in 2019, only an exclusive group of highly trained professionals will get to drive it-the next astronauts to land on the moon.
The new lunar rover, informally known as the Chariot, is a prototype being developed as part of NASA's Constellation program, which aims to put people back on the moon by 2020.
The current version combines 35 years of technological advances with lessons learned from the original "moon buggies" used during the Apollo missions of the 1970s.
One of the biggest modifications is an optional pressurized cabin that comes fully equipped with beds, a pantry, a waste-management system, and a pair of space suits, allowing astronauts to live and work "on the road" for up to two weeks.
"It's important to keep the crew happy," noted Mike Gernhardt, a veteran NASA astronaut who is helping design the Chariot at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. "As long as the food's good and the seats are comfortable, you can put up with a lot," he added.
Ambrose and other engineers have been designing the new rover in part based on tips from Apollo astronauts.
To overcome the porpoising problem, for instance, the Chariot has a longer wheelbase and is outfitted with the same automatic stability control used to keep today's sport-utility vehicles from rolling over.
Steering is controlled by a computerized navigation system, and all six wheels can turn in any direction or be individually lifted for greater maneuverability.
The craft also has two gears. The first gear tops out at 3 miles (5 kilometers) an hour, while second gear can safely reach 12 miles (20 kilometers) an hour.
Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries allow the craft to venture up to 62 miles (100 kilometers) and back before needing a pit stop at a solar-power station.
One of the more unusual innovations is a pair of slip-on space suits attached to the back of the pressurized cabin.
The rover will need to pass several rounds of technical tests and budget reviews between now and 2019 before the design is finalized.