An agile white vehicle roams the Arizona desert, maneuvering the unforgiving terrain as the wind and sun beat down and temperatures swing from one extreme to another. NASA astronauts and engineers are test-driving a rover over rocks and sand, up and down hills in an environment that simulates the brutal conditions of Mars.
This is Desert RATS (Research and Technology Studies), and the rover — about the size of a Hummer and boasting a pressurized cabin to support humans in space — is being put to the test. It could ultimately serve one of NASA’s loftiest goals: human exploration of Mars. In the nearer future, similar vehicles might help humans investigate near-earth asteroids.
“You always want it to be as light as possible, but you also want it to be strong enough."
Chris Chapman, NASA test engineer