Although the concept vehicle is for educational use - it was designed to be as realistic as possible
While the prospect of a manned mission to Mars remains some distance into the future, planning for our arrival on the red planet is well underway.
NASA aims to complete the trip by 2033 – and if a new concept vehicle unveiled at the space agency's Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Complex this week is anything to go by, scientists will be riding high when they get there.
The futuristic new Mars rover has definite shades of the Batmobile – or the robust space trucks used in the Alien series – and could pave the way for the next generation of Mars exploration vehicles.
The giant rover is 28 feet (8.5m) long, 13 feet (4m) wide and is designed to accommodate four astronauts.
Its six wheels are 50 inches (1.3m) tall, 30 inches (75cm) wide, and are specially designed for Mars’ dusty terrain.
Are you ready for #SummerOfMars? Take a sneak peek at the Mars Rover Concept Vehicle at #KennedySpaceCenter built by @parkerbrosconcepts cape canaveral. This summer, get a front row seat for #NASA's #JourneyToMars @marcparker @shanonparkerpbc
A post shared by Parker Brothers Concepts (@parkerbrosconcepts) on
Made entirely of aluminium and carbon fibre, the back section of the solar powered truck serves a detachable laboratory for extraterrestrial fieldwork.
The front area is designed for scouting and is equipped with radio and navigation provided by the Global Positioning System.
The rover operates on an electric motor, powered by solar panels and a 700-volt battery.
While it is capable of hitting top speeds of up to 70mph (112.6kph), the rocky Martian terrain would likely limit the rover to closer to 15mph (24kph) on any potential mission.
The vehicle was designed by US based Parker Brothers Concepts using specifications provided by NASA.
Designer Marc Parker told Business Insider that he and his brother Shanon have been working day and night on the concept since November of last year.
“What we actually came up with was a dual-purpose vehicle,” he said. “It actually separates in the middle.”
“The rear section is a full lab; the front area is a cockpit for going out and doing scouting.
“The lab section can actually disconnect ... and be left on its own to do autonomous research. That way the scout vehicle can go out to do its thing without the fuel consumption and extra weight, then come back later.”
It was built as part of the space agency’s “Summer of Mars” educational programme, which aims to inspire the public and build momentum behind the proposed manned missions of the future.
“While this exact rover is not expected to operate on Mars, one or more of its elements could make its way into a rover astronauts will drive on the Red Planet,” said a spokesperson for NASA.
The truck will be on show at the space centre throughout the summer programme – and is due to go on tour around the east coast of the US over the coming months.
NASA spokesperson Rebecca Shireman said the programme will provide a survey of the space agency’s previous research into the red planet
“It's an all-encompassing effort to review the history of our efforts to explore Mars and look ahead to what is being planned,” she said.
NASA has successfully operated six unmanned landing craft and vehicles on the Martian surface since the first landing in 1976.
There are currently two unmanned rovers operating on the planet’s surface – with a new unmanned mission set for 2020.
The Mars 2020 mission will search for signs of ancient microbial life by drilling for core samples that could one day be transported to Earth.
The new concept rover was funded by an unnamed private company – with a reality TV show about its construction on the way.
The vehicle will return to the Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Complex to form part of the Astronaut Training Experience attraction, which is due to open in the autumn.