Off-world off-roading: NASA tests new lunar rover

Click above for a gallery of the Small Pressurized Rover

This week in Arizona, NASA conducted tests of the new battery-powered Small Pressurized Rover (SPR) it hopes to use when the U.S. sends astronauts back to the moon by 2020. The SPR is a huge leap forward over the original open-air (or is it open-vacuum?) rovers used by the Apollo astronauts. The configuration consists of a pressurized cabin mounted atop a modular chassis that can drive in any direction, thans to wheels that turn 360 degrees. The cockpit leads back to an area housing an airlock that the astronauts can use to transfer from one rover to another, from the rover to a apacecraft, or from a rover to a surface installation and vice-versa.

At the back of that compartment are two "suitports" that allow the astronauts to enter and exit their EVA (extra-vehicular activity) spacesuits without having to bring them into the vehicle itself. The suit backpacks lock into the ports and open up, allowing the wearer to climb out and work in the pressurized vehicle in normal clothing. Very, very cool stuff here. Since the rover is modular in nature, it can also operate as a non-pressurized vehicle, with all the operators in turrets wearing suits. Top speed is 10 km/h (around 6 mph), and the rover should enable astronauts to go on missions away from base for up to two weeks, covering up to 625 miles, according to Reuters. We've gallerized a pair of high-res images and NASA's fact sheet below, and the NASA Edge blog has more photos you might be interested in checking out.

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[Sources: Reuters, NASA, NASA Edge Blog]

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