NASA's Gilded Chariot

Next-gen astronauts get a new, gold-plated ride

CRUISIN' (Blow it Up!)

Spacesuit engineer Dustin Gohmert takes the 4,400-pound Chariot prototype (the final design will weigh about half that) for a spin at Johnson Space Center. It has a top speed of 12 mph.NASA/JSC

After decades of staying in Earth orbit, NASA hopes to return to the moon. There, astronauts will drive Chariot, the newly designed replacement for the lunar rover that transported astronauts and moon rocks during the Apollo 15 through 17 missions in 1971 and 1972.

Mechanical engineers designed Chariot [shown here being tested on a mock lunar surface at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas] to be an all-purpose hauler of people, tools, geological samples and even mobile habitats.

Batteries power the current design, but liquid-oxygen and liquid-hydrogen fuel cells—no batteries to run out of power—could replace them in the future. The wheels will rotate 360 degrees, allowing the platform to travel in any direction. The only extraneous part of the design is the gold color, from ano-dized aluminum, added for retro flair. A more suitable (albeit pricier) metal, such as gold foil, will provide thermal protection when the rover goes into operation.