Mars rovers are already the future, at least to many of us Earthlings, but the prototype that recently lumbered into the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum as part of the Kennedy Space Center’s Summer of Mars Experience Tour is a portal into what could be crawling over the dusty expanse of the Red Planet decades from now.
The prototype, which kind of looks like a cross between a Hummer and the Batmobile, was dreamed up by Parker Brothers Concepts (with a little help from NASA) and weighs in at 5.5 tons— over twice the weight of Curiosity, a comparative lightweight at 2 tons. It did inherit Curiosity’s wheels. These are designed with open structures that let rocks and debris fall through, so they’ll get no flats, but possibly some weird noises. The dashboard even looks kind of like your car’s, complete with a glove compartment. That is until you realize that glove compartment isn’t for crumpled maps but Martian rock and soil samples.
As much as anyone would want to gun this thing around Mars and possibly Gotham City, it’s really only meant to be inspiration for upcoming rovers that will be driving into the Mars exploration arena. The glossy black paint job may be Batman badass but wouldn’t be practical for an astronaut vehicle meant to reflect radiation rather than absorb it. On a planet with nearly zero atmosphere and only 1 percent of Earth’s pressure, preventing yourself from getting scorched—or freezing to death if you’re at the poles—inside any vehicle is already a superhero feat. Those awesome blue LED lights that look so appropriately space-age probably won’t be flashing on Mars either.
At least the concept is a launchpad for scientists, astronauts, and NASA as they try to figure out how to engineer the next generation of rovers toward their specific needs. This is more of what NASA has in mind. The proto could be streamlined in some areas and equipped with additional contraptions in others. For example, that glove compartment may have to be expanded to allow room for more instruments. Never mind that its design needs to be optimized so the astronauts stay alive.
If some iteration of this thing actually blasted off to Mars, it would be the largest rover ever sent to an alien planet. It would need a heavy-lift rocket that could take on such extreme weight to avoid multiple launches. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket can supposedly fly up to 16,800 pounds through space, but only further testing can confirm it actually has that sort of muscle.
So maybe this prototype will never really take off, but it could inspire the Caped Crusader’s next ride.