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Always On: Roving the Moon and Mars in NASA's concept space explorer
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Always On: Roving the Moon and Mars in NASA's concept space explorer

5:05 /

Jeff Cannata lives out a childhood dream with a visit to NASA's Johnson Space Center and checks out the coolest, far out space vehicle you'll ever see.

-Three, two, one. -We may have seen the last of the modern man space flight missions, but that doesn't mean we're giving up on sending astronauts to space. NASA is hard at work right now on missions to the moon by 2020, asteroids by 2025, and Mars by 2030. This is NASA's Space Exploration Vehicle weighing 6,600 pounds. It's a futuristic concept designed by engineers to explore the surface of the moon and Mars. Let's take a look. The goal of this vehicle is to be able to explore the surface of Mars, the moon-- -Or any other planets. -then make observations through the front of it. -Right. -So you can be scouting out different parts of the planet? -Right. And looking for, you know either geological things or signs of life or whatever the science happens to be. -And you pull up to something, you say, "That's interesting. I wanna get out and explore it further." Which is easy to do when you consider all the tech built into this vehicle. First it's all electric-- with the lithium-ion battery that powers it. And it's controlled with this steering stick. There's also a dozen cameras attached to the exterior, and the 12 wheels can each pivot 360 degrees. So it can drive up and down more slopes. So can we take it for a ride? -Yeah, absolutely. -All right, let's do it. -I will-- I'll give you a ride, then I'll turn it over to you and you can drive it. -I can drive? -You can drive. -I could drive. I'm so excited, next stop-- the moon. -Oh my god-- oh my god, that's amazing. -This is what we call the Crab mode, so we're actually blend in a Y command with a little bit of yaw. And it allows you to go around and keep your optimal window view for what you're trying to look at. -All right, I'm moving to Mars. We are going up. -Look around. -We're just rotating like it's nothing. It's so fast-- how incredible. NASA has also designed the vehicle so astronauts can venture outside. There's a space suit port integrated into the back hatch, that makes it possible to step into the suit right from the cabin and go for a space walk. But if astronauts just want to explore from inside, there's also a specially designed window for better viewing. -This bubble was made for astronauts to be able to actually stick their face in and observe rocks up close while staying inside the SEV. You can actually pitch it down so that we can look right up-close next the rock. How cool is that? Pilot select-- -Okay. You have got the vehicle. -All right, here we go. Oh my god. I'm going into the crater. Oh my god. It's amazing. It's the coolest video game you've ever played-- -Yeah. -in your life. All right, I'm trying to-- I'm gonna try the Crab mode. -Okay, [unk] now start twisting the stick. -Start twisting the stick. -There we go. -Yeah. -You actually-- you look quite good. -Thank you. I've played my fair share of-- -Of video games? -joystick games. This is insanely steep. Faith in the vehicle-- incredible. Oh, crazy. I'm driving a space vehicle. I'm driving a space vehicle on the simulated lunar surface right now. Ten-year old me, eat your heart out? NASA has also developed this prototype for deep space exploration. It's for missions that could one day explore near Earth asteroids. This vehicle lets astronauts check out the surface of those asteroids. Surveying and collecting geological samples to study later. So where is all of this headed? Are we going to be mining asteroids? -The more we know about asteroids, the better position we'll be in to deflect them, because someday maybe 100 years from now or 100 million years from now, a big asteroid is gonna hit the Earth. -So, we wanna find out how to make that not happen. -Exactly. And some people have said, if the dinosaurs had a space program, they wouldn't be extinct. -All right, so I got to drive the wheeled one-- -Right. -can we give this one a spin? -Yeah. Let's go inside. -All right. I'm gonna follow my commander and go to toward where the laser pointer is pointed on the asteroid. It's just like the video game asteroids. -Okay. -And there's momentum. I mean, I have a lot of experience from hitting an asteroid, so I'm-- -Yeah. -probably gonna be pretty good at this. But all joking aside, this is no video game and NASA is serious about using vehicles like these for future space missions-- whether it's to the moon, Mars, and yes even near Earth asteroids.

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