When you go on holiday, nothing gives you more freedom than a hire car and if you really want to see life off the beaten track, a four wheel drive car is essential but how about a six wheel drive vehicle in the ultimate holiday destination?
Whilst at the moment, the six-wheeler Curiosity, currently exploring the surface of Mars, is controlled from Earth; the hope is that one day a similar vehicle will be driven across the surface of the Red Planet by humans.
So what’s so special about Curiosity compared to the Lunar Rovers of missions to space in the past? The cost is certainly a factor, for whereas the Lunar Rovers were built by Boeing for a total cost of $38m, Curiosity and its landing apparatus will cost a cool $2.4bn. Compare the vehicles though and you’ll see why.
The Lunar Rover or Moon Buggy looked a little like the chassis of a Formula 1 car where the tyres have been replaced with tractor tyres. It needed to be small, virtually flat-packed and constructible in difficult conditions on the moon’s surface by astronauts. Curiosity on the other hand is over four times the weight at nearly a metric tonne and is a little shorter but wider than the Lunar Rovers. It still looks like it was constructed from Lego but is a lot chunkier than its lunar rival.
We expect to find computers on modern day vehicles controlling the power, fuel consumption and directing us to our destination and some even use computers to drive themselves safely over a route. Curiosity has a small but hugely powerful computer that not only does all that but also analyses samples it collects as well as taking and sending high quality photographs of its journey, back to earth. Having computer power that most geeks would drool over, definitely gives this vehicle the ultimate management system.
The really special part of Curiosity is its wheels and suspension. Using bigger wheels than the Lunar Rover and with six instead of four, the vehicle has superb stability. It’s also very flexible using a rocker-bogie system enabling it to iron out height differentials of up to 1.1m despite having small wheels. The suspension also helped when it landed, fully operational, on its wheels on the planet’s surface.
All this is powered by a nuclear battery which will last 14 years compared to the less powerful but everlasting solar cells on previous space buggies.
It’s a successful start for Curiosity, part of the Mars Science Laboratory and if you’re going somewhere special this summer and need an all-terrain vehicle and have a couple of billion in your holiday budget, let Curiosity get the better of you too!