Monster-trucking on the moon in a newfangled $2 million buggy

New York Times writer John Schwartz took a joyride in a new NASA lunar vehicle that sounds like it ought to come with a Garth Brooks CD:

IT turns on a dime and parallel-parks like a dream. On the downside, it’s a little pricey (at $2 million or so) and its top speed is a pokey 15 miles an hour. Still, there’s a lot to like about the concept car taking shape here at the Johnson Space Center.

Did I say car? The new moon buggy conceived by space center engineers is anything but a car or a buggy. Its official name is Chariot, and this, my friends, is a truck. A heavy duty workhorse of a truck.

“America basically created the truck,” said Lucien Junkin, the chief engineer on the project. And so, he says, why not take a truck to the moon if NASA, as planned, takes humans back, as early as 2020?

It is a beguiling idea, especially as realized in a vehicle infused with the lessons learned from the Apollo-era moon missions and the subsequent success of the Spirit and Opportunity robotic rovers on Mars. This model took a year to build. It looks kind of like what you’d get if a monster truck had a ménage à trois with a flatbed trailer and a medieval siege engine....

Link to full story, with more great photos, and additional links. Image: Erin Trieb for The New York Times


  1. Sort of looks like a planter. We really need monster truck rallies on the moon. And WWF too.

    Isn’t the universe going to be happy to see us coming around?

  2. Wow, a truck for the moon. Nevermind it is so heavy, that it takes a dedicated mission just to get it on the moon and that someone just spend $2 million on a prototype with rather shoddy technology, the actual point is, that it just won’t be used.

    A truck on the moon might be useful if there was a permanent moon base. But you are fooling yourselves if you expect that to be around there. This whole moon program right now is limited to “bringing a man to the moon and returning him safely to the earth” because, erm … because … well, because Americans do that sort of thing. It was announced ad hoc just after the Columbia desaster, which doesn’t exactly sound like a well thought through plan. Also, roughly all the founding for the program has yet to come, as the plan conveniently put off all the founding until after the Bush administration couldn’t be re-elected. And funding is something that won’t be there in a nation reeking of sh*t that is currently hitting the fan.

    Another point to consider is explained here:

    Sorry to wake you up from your dreams.

  3. While it’s currently popular to diss the space program, I have to say that I think this is awesome.

    We can’t build a moon base without the right tools, and this is a step in the right direction.

    And $2 million is pocket change when it comes to engineering research.

  4. Recalls the $5,000 toilet seat and the story about the engineers and the morning cold bike ride to work.
    Perfect example of how big government and engineers with unlimited bloated budgets get out of control.

    They need a truck, get a used toyota pickup, slap some batteries and an electric motor on it for crying out loud.

  5. JonJonZ @6: used toyotas won’t survive a day on the moon.Not unless you can reconfigure them to stand temperatures of both above 100C and below -50C(sunlight and shadow, respectively), make sure the steering is immune to vacuum welding and about a hundred other problems.It’s probably cheaper to design something from the ground up.

  6. @2
    Your skepticism is understandable and indeed appreciable. But wouldn’t you agree that, even if this is a failure unto itself, it is at least a minor step of progress? After all, the automobile and the airplane weren’t invented in one go.

    I rather think these new buggies look pretty good, even if there is room for improvement. At least they’re trying, right?

  7. @10

    Well, it sure is a minor step towards having a mission on the moon, but really it is not what you need right now. Any step towards the moon right now, is more likely to be made with a pencil and a spreadsheet of the US budget. This is what counts, because in the end, you can’t have a sustainable moon program without steady funding. If the US should decide to pull through with a moon program in its current shape, it will just be a repetition of the Apollo program, maybe nice propaganda, but quickly falling out of favour, as the costs, like its goals, will be astronomical. The way I see it right now, is that funding (read: commitment) is much more important for any space program, than technological tinkering. And for all your (and also mine!) enthusiasm for the next moon program, I just can’t see any sustainable commitment in the public at large right now.

  8. Is that Gold plating I see there? These vehicles seem to have been ‘pimped’ already? Maybe they could sell some on Earth to claw back some of the cost :) Geek rappers might go for them. Doesn’t look like there’s much protection for doing a drive by though.

  9. man thats a lots of money but it point less unless u have a building or some one living on the moon. and i think thats wht lots of the counties have to try to colionize the Moon.

  10. This is really what this country needs? Gas prices going up every day, The cost of living is high and this is what we see fit to spend 2 million dollars on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. I would like to see gas at $10 per gallon because it would get Americans out of our Hummers and force us to consolidate our errands instead of getting in the car every twenty minutes. The average American drives over 12,000 miles per year. At an average of 25 mpg, that’s 480 gallons per year. It appears that the inability to pay for gas is the only thing that’s going to get us off the road.

  12. Rumor has it that this was “W’s” idea “fur gettin’ ta the moon” NASA didn’t have the heart to tell him ………..

    Cheney of course wanted to outfit it for urban warfare (another $2billion Halliburton no bid contract). It’s all about national security, could be terrorists there, Moonland Security will establish an outpost.

  13. @13, is it gold plating? No, its probably anodized aluminum or paint, which is much cheaper to do.

    @ all of you who don’t like the idea. First of all, you can’t just send an electrified SUV or a bike to the moon, SUVs, bikes, and other off road have a chance of tipping over. On Earth this would not be much of a problem, you just right the vehicle, possibly using a winch, you fix any broken parts, and bandage any cuts.

    On the Moon, however, a vehicle tipping over could be disastrous, pressure suits might get breached, the nearest replacement part is 384,403 km away, and any vehicle breakdown might jeopardize the mission, and possibly astronauts lives.

    @15, How this might help gas prices go down?
    Any vehicle you put on the moon has to be electric, as there aren’t any gas stations on the moon. Not only that, but it has to be an extremely efficient electric vehicle, you need to get the most range out of the least weight of batteries as weight is expensive. Not to mention you also need solar panels to charge the vehicle. This means that better batteries, motors, and solar panels need to be developed before we can go to the moon.
    It just so happens, that all of these things would be useful in getting off our addiction to oil.

  14. I thought we had lots of incipient battery/electrical tech and no development money for it because oil/short term profit hogs it all.

  15. tkae a leaf from Takuan’s book..

    A rat done bit my sister Nell.
    (with Whitey on the moon)

    Her face and arms began to swell.
    (and Whitey’s on the moon)

    I can’t pay no doctor bill.
    (but Whitey’s on the moon)

    Ten years from now I’ll be payin’ still.
    (while Whitey’s on the moon)

    The man jus’ upped my rent las’ night.
    (’cause Whitey’s on the moon)

    No hot water, no toilets, no lights.
    (but Whitey’s on the moon)

    I wonder why he’s uppi’ me?
    (’cause Whitey’s on the moon?)

    I wuz already payin’ ‘im fifty a week.
    (with Whitey on the moon)

    Taxes takin’ my whole damn check,
    Junkies makin’ me a nervous wreck,
    The price of food is goin’ up,
    An’ as if all that shit wuzn’t enough:
    A rat done bit my sister Nell.
    (with Whitey on the moon)

    Her face an’ arm began to swell.
    (but Whitey’s on the moon)

    Was all that money I made las’ year
    (for Whitey on the moon?)

    How come there ain’t no money here?
    (Hmm! Whitey’s on the moon)

    Y’know I jus’ ’bout had my fill
    (of Whitey on the moon)

    I think I’ll sen’ these doctor bills,
    Airmail special
    (to Whitey on the moon)

    – Gil Scott Heron

  16. …Yeah, well, the design team obviously forgot *one* lesson the Rovers taught us. Note the lack of *fenders*, kids?

  17. didn’t the Russian Lunokhod tele-operated rovers last much,much longer, cost far, far less and get more data?

  18. “Chariot”? Seriously? They’re naming it after the dorky land vehicle the Robinson’s used in “Lost In Space”. Come on, NASA. Aim a little higher, huh?

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