Check out NASA’s fun new electric vans

The cute vehicles come from a company called Canoo and are intended to be used by the Artemis II crew before they leave Earth.
three electric vehicles for nasa parked in a row
The vehicles won't travel too far, but they'll look good doing it. Isaac Watson/NASA

Yesterday, electric vehicle maker Canoo announced in a press release that it had delivered three new Crew Transportation Vehicles (CTVs) to NASA. The cute-looking and totally electric vehicles will transport astronauts to the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the Artemis lunar missions.

Designed as a big update to shuttle-era Astrovan, the CTVs were made specifically for the requirements of the Artemis missions, NASA says. Each vehicle can accommodate up to four astronauts in their brand-new Orion spacesuits, plus a spacesuit technician, on the drive to Launch Pad 39B. There’s also “room for specialized equipment,” NASA says. 

“The collaboration between Canoo and our NASA representatives focused on the crews’ safety and comfort on the way to the pad ahead of their journey to the Moon,” Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, the Artemis launch director, said in a press release. 

Although safety and comfort were obviously important, NASA also put a lot of thought into the visual design of the CTVs, which is meant to pay “homage to the legacy of the agency’s human spaceflight and space exploration efforts.” Apparently, everything “from the interior and exterior markings to the color of the vehicles to the wheel wells” was carefully chosen. 

[Related: With Artemis 1 launched, NASA is officially on its way back to the moon]

“I have no doubt everyone who sees these new vehicles will feel the same sense of pride I have for this next endeavor of crewed Artemis missions,” Blackwell-Thompson, who was involved in the design process, added. Canoo intends to reveal the interior and exterior in more detail later this year.

Canoo is one of the more interesting electric vehicle manufacturers in the US. It has developed a “skateboard” modular EV platform (other EV makers use the skateboard approach too). Basically, it consists of four wheels, a battery, a motor or two, and a drive-by-wire steering wheel on a 9.35-foot wheelbase, allowing the company to develop different vehicles from the same chassis. So far, it has a van-style Lifestyle Vehicle (which the NASA CTVs are based on), a delivery-van, and a pickup truck, which the US Army is currently testing

Of course, developing a brand-new platform like this is never a smooth process. Canoo’s press release boasts of an “on time” delivery, hinting at some of its past troubles. As recently as May last year, the company only had enough cash on hand to last another three months. It seems a spate of binding orders for more than 15,000 vehicles from companies like Walmart and two fleet leasing companies, Zeeba and Kingbee, were enough to keep it in the clear. It’s a big reminder that the EV space is still very new, and some of the companies making headlines right now might not be the ones that we are talking about in 10 year’s time.

Although they were delivered this week, the CTVs won’t have their big day until at least November of 2024. That’s the current planned launch date for NASA’s first crewed mission to the moon in 53 years, Artemis II. The little CTVs will drive the four astronauts the first nine miles of their trip into space, though the hulking Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft will take them for the rest of their 10-day mission. Until then, the three EVs will be used for astronaut training exercises.