Big Pic: The Mars Yards Where Rovers Practice On Earth

This isn’t a movie set—it’s a demo space for real-life science. It’s the European Space Agency’s Mars Yard, which engineers use to test rover locomotion. No word on why knee-high rubber boots is the preferred footwear in the Mars Yard.

The yard is a 26-foot square filled with gravel and rocks of different sizes. There’s a crater, a boulder field, a sandy dune and a gravel slope. Sophisticated cameras surround the space, to help engineers track their prototype rovers as they amble through the landscape or try to pick up rocks.

The European Mars Yard is located in the Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

Does the U.S. have one, too? Yep, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California maintains a much larger, 216-foot-by-118-foot “MarsYard III.” It contains beach sand, weathered granite pieces, brick dust, volcanic cinders and basalt rocks of several types, plus a building for researchers to stay in and for storing computers and measuring instruments.

Big Pic: The Mars Yards Where Rovers Practice On Earth