Toyota to collaborate on a lunar rover with Japanese space agency

Long before Elon Musk launched his Tesla roadster into orbit, the automobile industry was actively involved in the space effort. Chrysler built rockets, Ford’s Philco division developed electronics, and General Motors designed NASA’s three lunar rovers, the first cars in space. Now a Toyota may be the next heavenly vehicle.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Toyota Motor Corporation have announced a collaborative agreement to study the feasibility of building a fuel-cell-powered, manned, and pressurized lunar rover. Toyota and JAXA have already been working on the project for almost a year.

The use of a motor vehicle dramatically expands the exploratory range of astronauts landing on the moon (or Mars). JAXA anticipates the proposed rover will be launched into space in 2029.

The goal isn’t just publicity for Toyota. Mankind continues to benefit from technologies initially developed by and for the American effort to put a man on the moon and bring him back safely, and Toyota hopes to reap some rewards in terms of technology and intellectual property from its participation with JAXA.

Robert Heinlein wrote The Moon is a Harsh Mistress in 1966. That may or may not be the case, but the Moon is certainly an extreme environment that puts equipment to the test. Lunar gravity is 1/6 of what we experience on Earth and the terrain presents any vehicle there with the challenge of navigating craters, cliffs, and hills. The moon has no atmosphere, so machinery must be able to work in a literal vacuum.

Toyota released some images of its proposed rover, which bears some resemblance to the fictional Shuttlecraft from Star Trek. It’s about 18-feet long, 15-feet wide, and 11-feet tall. Designed to hold two astronauts, in an emergency it could carry two additional people. NASA’s original “Lunar Roving Vehicle” had a range of about 125 miles. Toyota’s proposed Moon-car will have a considerably longer range, about 6000 miles, before the fuel cells run out.

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