General Motors is teaming up with Lockheed Martin to produce the ultimate off-road, self-driving, electric vehicles—for the moon. The project announced Wednesday is still in the early stages and has yet to score any NASA money, the AP reports. But the goal is to design light yet rugged vehicles that will travel farther and faster than the lunar rovers that carried NASA's Apollo astronauts in the early 1970s, the companies said. "Mobility is really going to open up the moon for us," said Kirk Shireman, a former NASA manager who is now Lockheed Martin's vice president for lunar exploration. The rovers used by the Apollo 15, 16, and 17 moonwalkers ventured no more than 4½ miles from their landers. GM also helped design those vehicles.
NASA, which aims to return astronauts to the moon by 2024, last year put out a call for industry ideas on lunar rovers. The initial rovers will be designed to carry two astronauts at a time, company officials said. A brief video showed a large, open rover speeding over lunar slopes, with more headlights in the distance. By operating autonomously when needed, Shireman noted, the rovers can keep astronauts safely away from dangerous spots like the permanently shadowed craters at the moon's South Pole. Frozen water gathered from these dark corners could be used for drinking, growing plants, and creating rocket fuel. Autonomy could also improve efficiency, with astronauts focused on collecting rocks as a rover follows behind like a puppy, he said. The vehicle will be unpressurized, so riders will need to wear spacesuits at all times.
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