The 1960s was a decade that sparked an enormous question: who will be the first to get a man to the moon? Since then, with the increase of technology, humans have shifted that focus to, "who can get a vehicle into space and explore the places that man cannot yet go?" I say yet because it's only a matter of time before we have gathered enough information to send a person to Mars, but until then, we can discuss the cars, rovers and other vehicles that have been to space and the ones that will soon go there.
I have compiled a list of just that: 10 vehicles that have been to space and 9 concept and beta vehicles that may soon be headed there. With each item on the list I have included information and history as well as other interesting details that I found in my research.
I think the concept vehicles are the most interesting part of this list and encourage you to read about them, as they give a glimpse into the future of space technology and interplanetary travel, something which I hope to see in my lifetime. Some of them are completely far fetched, looking into the distant future, while others already have prototypes that could see use in the near future.
Interesting as well is that many of them are concepts from private companies, meaning NASA and other government-run space agencies aren't the only ones in the space competition now. For-profit aerospace engineering is a new economic market that will change the world forever.
19 Apollo Lunar Roving Vehicle
Initially designed to scour the surface of the Moon, the Apollo Lunar Rolling Vehicle was an incredible, manned rover that was built for the U.S. space exploration adventures of the 1970s.
Three LRVs have been used on three separate missions: Apollo 15, 16 and 17 all utilized an LRV to expand the range of their lunar activities, like, collecting data, photos etc.
Interesting enough, the company behind the LRV was Boeing, who helped fund and develop the Lunar Rolling Vehicle. Altogether, developing and building the LRV cost about 38 million dollars, a small price to pay for extraterrestrial exploration.
The Spirit Mars Rover was launched in 2003, headed to discover more about the Martian surface, as well as collect data and samples to further the research about sustaining a livable environment on Mars. In its nearly 7 year long mission, the Spirit was able to analyze tons of different mineral samples from the Martian surface, some of which were rocks that showed signs of liquid alteration, i.e., water (most likely) had eroded and made patterns on the rocks, confirming a certain level of livability on Mars.
The unfortunate end to Spirit's mission came in 2010, when, after being stuck in sand for quite some time, the batteries reached critical levels and communication with the rover was lost.
Around the same time as the launch of Spirit, the Opportunity rover was launched with many of the same goals: explore Mars, gather data and further human knowledge about the 4th planet from the sun.
Primary objectives include characterizing minerals that could hold traces of water, determining their composition and link them to possible geologic processes that exist on Mars.
Thus far, Opportunity has done an impeccable job at collecting data and has lived long past the expected mission length. NASA predicted that the mission would last about 90 sols (a little over 90 earth days), however, Opportunity is still active today, nearly 14 years after it left Earth.
Since its landing in 2012, the Curiosity has been working towards providing a better understanding of Martian geology, including the investigation of microbial life, the role of water and studying the habitability of the planet. Compared to other rovers that came before it, the Curiosity is equipped with advanced cameras that allow for incredible photo documentation of the mission.
The photos that have been collected by Curiosity are incredible, including the "selfies" that the rover took to show the Martian landscape. Much like the Opportunity, the Curiosity is still roaming around the Martian deserts, collecting data and helping us prepare for the eventual human touchdown on Mars.
15 Tesla Roadster
Elon Musk has made quite the name for himself in the media, being described as a scientist who wants to create inventions to take over the world (okay maybe not quite). But one publicity stunt stands out among the rest: being the first private enterprise to send something into outer space.
On February 6th, 2018, SpaceX launched a Tesla Roadster into outer space, and it is now technically orbiting the Sun.
It's predicted that the Roadster will eventually collide with a celestial body, whether that means it will be coming back to Earth or it will be crashing on the surface of another planet in the Solar System. Either way, the Roadster in space will go down as one of the craziest publicity stunts ever pulled off by a company.
14 Yutu Rover
The Yutu rover is the only Chinese rover that has ever been developed and was launched on a mission to the Moon's surface in 2013. The rover landed near Sinus Iridum and had a series of primary objectives: gather topographical information, perform geological surveys and most importantly, achieve a successful space exploration mission for the Chinese.
Overall, Yutu achieved all of its goals, however, it was unfortunately crippled after enduring its second lunar day, which is almost a month of Earth time. Yutu was left stagnant, unable to move due to malfunctioning parts and resumed its mission as a stationary rover, collecting data from where it stopped in its tracks. The mission concluded in 2016, after a total of 31 months, leaving the Chinese with a successful lunar exploration mission.
While it was initially designed in Russia, the Marsokhod rover saw joint development by both the Russians and the Americans, who were able to learn incredible things through the building process of the rover.
The rover was initially designed for the Mars-96 mission, but its true legacy is what scientists were able to create in the design process.
The Marsokhod helped scientists develop a virtual control environment, which has been expanded on, leading to the complex and effective control terminals that we have for rovers today. In fact, the technology that was developed in the Marsokhod rover paved the way for the control functions of other rovers that have followed, much like Opportunity, Curiosity and Spirit.
12 Lunokhod 1
As part of Russia’s entry into the “Great Space Race,” the Lunokhod 1 was an early, successful attempt to reach the lunar surface, as the Luna 17 carried the Lunokhod 1 to the Moon’s surface in 1970. This marked the first time that a remote controlled entity had freely moved across a celestial body that was not Earth, a goal that was attempted with the Lunokhod 0, which had failed in its mission prior to the Lunokhod 1.
While on the lunar surface, Lunokhod collected tons of photos and videos, as well as ran soil analysis tests on samples of lunar soil, collecting data about the soil's composition. In September 1971, communications ceased with Lunokhod 1 and the rover was officially discontinued shortly after.
11 Lunokhod 2
Three years after the successful Luna 17 mission that put the Lunokhod 1 on the Moon’s surface, the Lunokhod 2 was launched, becoming the second successful Russian journey to the lunar surface.
Like the Lunokhod 1, the Lunokhod 2 had a series of tasks, one of which was collecting images of the Moon's surface, however, the Lunokhod 2 had other duties as well.
The primary objective of this second trip to the Moon was so Russian scientists could perform laser ranging experiments, observe solar x-rays and measure magnetic fields. In the end, Lunkhod 2 operated for about 4 months and collected valuable data, but lost communication after a malfunction caused it to overheat.
Years after the "Space Race," America continued its fascination with space travel by launching the Sojourner rover in 1997. The mission, which was supposed to last anywhere between 7 and 30 sols, ended up lasting 83 sols, exceeding the expectations of Sojourner's designers. The goal of the mission was simply to explore the surface of the 4th planet from the sun, which at the time, was a huge achievement.
The Sojourner has incredible historic importance, as the Mars exploration missions that followed 1997 have shared origins in Sojourner's mission. There is still much left to find out about Mars and Sojourner provided us with motivation to learn more about the frozen desert.
9 Audi Lunar Quattro
On Audi’s website, there is currently a page that discusses Audi’s, “Mission to the Moon” in great detail, saying that: “Audi is now heading towards the next stage in humanity’s greatest adventure in collaboration with Berlin-based start-up PTScientists. They are following in the wake of Apollo 17 by launching the first ever private moon mission. Touchdown is scheduled for 2019.”
Essentially, Audi is following Tesla and spearheading a private space exploration mission, more specifically, a mission to the Moon. The Audi Lunar Quattro is a rover designed to scour the lunar surface and analyze Apollo 17 artifacts, which have been sitting on the Moons surface since their abandonment many years ago.
One of NASA’s many concept vehicles, the Moonstream is an advanced, human-operated vehicle that is designed for full lunar exploration. Originally designed by Anthony Sims, the Moon Stream strives to create a comfortable environment for scientists to use while conducting research on the Moon's surface.
The design includes pressurized cabins and curving smoothed edges to avoid weak points which can cause cabin pressure failure.
This concept is definitely reserved for the far future, as the technology to build it needs to be more advanced than what is available right now, much less the fact that it would be about the size of a school bus, which makes it harder to transport than other space tech.
7 Mars 9 Rover
Igor Sobolevsky is the genius behind the Mars 9 Rover concept, which is incredibly far away from development and production, but still an interesting concept vehicle. Although it does look a lot like something from Lost Planet, this concept could be the future of lunar travel. I personally, would not be the least bit surprised to see this used by NASA astronauts in the 2030s to drive around the Moon while in the developmental stages of a moon base. Colonization of other planets is in our future, which is both amazing and horrifying, however, concept art like this makes me excited for whats to come.
6 KSC Human Rover
Another one of NASA’s most incredible concepts, this 6-wheel, all-terrain beast is the KSC Human Rover concept vehicle, designed to transport cargo and humans safely across the Martian Surface. This Martian terrain vehicle is incredible and looks like something you’d see used by a futuristic military.
Its purpose to provide safe travel for Martian settlers in the distant future, utilizing airless tires and heavily fortified walls to ensure safety from the harsh Martian environment.
Much like the Moonstream, this concept will be in development for the foreseeable future, all depending on when NASA's next trip to Mars will be.
5 Maximus Martian Cargo Transporter
With the growing possibility of human settlers traveling to Mars and making an inhabitable environment, there comes a growing demand for Martian infrastructure, one of which is having adequate transportation on the foreign planet. Artist Alber Silva is the designer behind this concept and while the design is still completely in the art phase, it would be awesome to see NASA adopt and produce a model of a transport vehicle like this. And considering the 6-wheel, all-terrain concept that was built, I don't think that a utility vehicle resembling Silvas concept is very far off: Martian vehicles are in our future.
4 Space Exploration Vehicle
The Space Exploration Vehicle, or SEV, is an advanced piece of tech being developed by NASA to provide safe travel across the surface of different planets, including accommodations for extended living periods, allowing astronauts to explore further than as limited by a non inhabitable lunar vehicle.
The SEV can provide shelter, oxygen, and safety for incredible lengths of time, ensuring the safety of astronauts in the distant future.
NASA is still developing the concept SEV. It's projected that the SEV will allow explorers to have a range of about 125 miles, which increases the range of a lunar car by about 20 times. This means that planet exploration will grow exponentially, as astronauts will be allowed to live as extraterrestrial nomads.
3 Team Indus ECA Rover
Team Indus is a private, for-profit aerospace company based out of Bangalore, India. Team Indus was formed in 2010 for the Google Lunar X Prize competition, which ended in 2018 without a winner. Many teams, like Team Indus, who were competing in the competition, had come so far on their projects that they continued to build them and are still working through what may be the final design stages.
Similar to the Audi Lunar Quattro, the ECA rover is compact, nimble and futuristic, giving a glimpse into what the rovers of the future will look like. Team Indus plans to launch their mission sometime in 2019, which will include information gathering as well as other technology testing.
2 ExoMars Rover
Designed by the European Space Agency and the Russian Roscosmos state, the ExoMars Rover is a state of the art unmanned rover, set to launch in 2020 and land on Mars in 2021.
The goal of the mission is to explore Mars for clues of life, past or present and communicate with the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter to pass information back to Earth.
The mission time is set at about 7 months, although like many other missions, the rover is well built and will most likely last longer than that. In fact, the ExoMars rover comes equipped with a Panoramic Camera System that can capture high definition 360-degree images, providing crucial topographical information.
1 Mars 2020 Rover
With the "Space Race" well behind us, the drive to put more machines, and possibly people, on other planets has slowed down, and the reality of the daunting task has settled in. The next goal is clear: get a man to Mars. NASA may get there eventually, but the proceeding steps right now are to gather as much information as possible about the Martian surface, a job which has been undertaken by a series of rovers that will soon include NASA’s newest rover, which is planned to launch sometime in 2020. The goal of the mission is to search for biosignatures left behind from past microbial life and of course, inch closer to the insurmountable task of putting a human on the Red Planet.
Sources: Issuu, NASA, ArtStation, Diseno-Art, Space Answers, Automobile Mag, Unmanned Spaceflight, Audi, TeamIndus, BBC, LaunchForth, NYPost, Tuvie, Auto Reporting, Insideevs, The Verge, Motor 1, Jalopnik, The New Yorker