Toyota plans to take off-roading vehicle design to astronomical heights, to the moon to be exact. The carmaker announced an upcoming collaboration with Japan's national space agency to design, develop and build the next generation of moon rover. Unlike the previous Apollo version rovers, which were more dune-buggy-like, Toyota's version will have an enclosed, pressurized cabin and will vaguely resemble the large recreational vehicles here on Earth. This design will allow the astronauts more time away from the lander.
"Manned, pressurized rovers will be an important element supporting human lunar exploration, which we envision will take place in the 2030s," Koichi Wakata, vice-president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), said in a written statement. The space agency reportedly aims to launch the new rover in 2029.
The lunar rover will be nearly 20 feet in length and have a width of 17 feet. It will also include a 140-cubic-feet cabin. It is designed to carry two passengers, four in case of an emergency. The rover will be powered by fuel cell technology, similar to Toyota manufactured vehicles here on Earth, running solely on oxygen and hydrogen and emitting only water.
The largest operational enhancement comes with the rover's ability to travel 6,200 miles, which smashes the previous NASA lunar buggies' accomplishment of nearly 22.5 miles on three separate journeys, then driven by Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Jack Schmidt, but that was in 1972.
"The Apollo astronauts had to return back to their lander each night, so they could only drive a certain distance before having to turn back around," Brent Garry, a geologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, told NBC News MACH in an email. "The pressurized rover is more like a lunar RV. The crews can drive and work 'all day,' then eat and sleep inside without having to spend precious time driving back to the lander every time."
In 2009, Garry spent two weeks living in a prototype lunar rover as part of a NASA experiment in preparation for a future "revamping" of moon rovers. That field test was designed to evaluate several robot technologies and test how a crew of two would live and work inside a small pressurized rover, dock with various equipment and robots, and use of the rear-entry suitport for donning and doffing spacesuits. These concepts were tested in an effort to provide Astronauts new ways to explore the lunar surface efficiently and effectively for long duration missions. The findings from that experiment will allow Toyota and JAXA, with the help of NASA, design and develop the near perfect lunar rover.