The University Record, June 4, 2001

Students building Mars rover prototype

By Neal Lao
College of Engineering

Conceptual image of Mars rover designed by the U-M team. (Image courtesy Michigan Mars Rover Team)
College of Engineering students have begun designing and building one of the first rover vehicles capable of supporting a manned mission to Mars.

NASA chief Daniel Goldin recently detailed plans to launch an unmanned spacecraft to Mars to collect and return geological samples to Earth by 2011. NASA awarded $1 million contracts to four companies, including Boeing and Lockheed Martin, to explore conducting such missions. If successful, these efforts would pave the way for landing human beings on the planet within the next two decades.

Anticipating the need for specialized equipment for manned missions to Mars, U-M engineering students have begun to develop a vehicle that could carry scientists and research equipment across the Martian terrain.

Unlike the lunar rover used in the Apollo missions, the U-M rover will allow scientists to conduct extended exploration of Mars in a mobile laboratory.

“The lunar rover used in the Apollo 15 mission was an unpressurized vehicle with limited range,” said Anna Paulson, engineering physics student and team project manager. “Our rover will allow astronauts to work in a shirt-sleeve environment while traveling 50 times farther than the lunar rover.”

According to Paulson, the vehicle will be able to support three crew members for up to 14 days and have a range of around 1,000 kilometers over rough terrain. The rover is based around the frame and power system of a Light Medium Tactile Vehicle donated by the U.S. Army.

Last year, the U-M team was one of three chosen for funding by the Mars Society, an international organization dedicated to promoting Mars-based research. The team will present its prototype in August at the Mars Society’s annual conference to be held at Stanford University. It then will test the vehicle at the Mars Desert Research Station in Nevada.

For more information on the project, visit the Web at marsrover.engin.umich.edu.