NASA's Chariot: Not Your Father's Lunar Rover
While designing the lunar truck, JSC engineers threw out some traditional assumptions on what a vehicle needs — such as doors and seats — and added new capabilities such as active suspension, six-wheel drive with independent steering for each wheel.
Credit: NASA

The NASA Chariot is a lunar truck prototype created to service the future US lunar outpost. Developed by the Exploration Technology Development Program's Human-Robotics Systems Project in just eleven months, the vehicle is designed to meet the payload transport, range, terrain and speed specifications defined by NASA?s Lunar Architecture Team.

The Chariot's chassis can be reconfigured for a variety of purposes and payloads. It can carry a mix of suited crew and payload; it can also be outfitted with a small pressurized cabin.


The pilot's control pedestal can rotate 360 degrees; the Chariot has no "front" or "rear." According to Johnson Space Center roboticist Rob Ambrose "The Apollo astronauts couldn't back up at all because they couldn't see where they were going in reverse." The vehicle itself has a zero turn radius — it can turn around entirely within its own length (see video).


NASA's Chariot is also the first lunar drop deck lowboy — the Chariot can drop the chassis right down to the ground for easy loading and unloading.


The specifications for Chariot were set forth as follows:


Chariot Spec

Earth Prototype

Lunar System


1000 kg

3000-6000 kg

Vehicle Mass

2000 kg

1000 kg

Top Speed

20 kph

20 kph


25 km

100 km

Slope Climbing

15 Degrees

25 Degrees


Science fiction writers have spent a fair amount of time thinking about how to get around on the Moon's surface. Arthur C. Clarke thought we might need mass transit:


"The monocab entered a long tunnel at the base of one of the domes. Sadler had a glimpse of great doors closing behind them — then another set, then another. Then there was the unmistakable sound of air surging around them, a final door opened ahead ..."
(Read more about Clarke's monocab from Earthlight [1955])


Clarke also created a practical vehicle for towing material around on the Moon's surface that took advantage of the powdery lunar soil - the dust-ski, which moved like a jet-ski through deep lunar powder:


"At that very moment ... one of the searching dust-skis was passing directly overhead. Built for speed, efficiency and cheapness ... It was, in fact, no more than an open sledge with seats for the pilot and one passenger — each wearing a space suit — and with a canopy overhead to give protection from the sun. A simple control panel, motor and twin fans at the rear, storage racks for tools and equipment — that completed the inventory. A ski going about its normal work usually towed at least one carrier sledge behind it ... "
(Read more about Clarke's dust-ski from A Fall of Moondust [1961])


Robert Heinlein thought that lunar prospectors might want to have something more personal for travel and hauling:


"The solitary prospector, deprived of his traditional burro, found the bicycle an acceptable and reliable, if somewhat less congenial, substitute. A miner's bike would have looked odd in the streets of Stockholm; over-sized wheels, doughnut sand tires, towing yoke and trailer, battery trickle charger, two-way radio, saddle bags and Geiger-counter mount made it not the vehicle for a spin in the park — but on Mars or on the Moon it fitted its purpose the way a canoe fits a Canadian stream. "
(Read more about Heinlein's lunocycle from The Rolling Stones [1952])


From NASA Chariot via Wired.


(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission of — where science meets fiction)