ALPHARETTA, Ga. – He’s big. He’s sexy. He’s extraterrestrial.
Yes, NASA’s 23-foot-long Mars Rover is a sleek and powerful concept vehicle sponsored by the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to showcase how American astronauts will motor around Mars.
Visiting North Point Mall last Saturday, hundreds of visitors stood in line to see the prototype with its detachable science lab-trailer.
The Rover looked futuristic indeed. It’s all part of the Summer of Mars to promote interest in NASA’s long-range space dream and whet the appetites of kids who may one day pilot the vehicle over the red, sandy Mars surface.
NASA Tour Manager Dana Jondahl has spent the summer touring the East Coast from New York City to Northpoint Mall and points in between – including the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
“I couldn’t tell you how many visitors we’ve had since the tour began. But I can tell you it’s been pretty popular,” Jondahl said. “People have flown to cities on our tour just to see it.”
While the vehicle is only a prototype, it gives a fair idea how it will navigate Mars’ sandy soil.
And it has a detachable science lab through which scientists will be able to collect samples of rocks and soil for study and perform other experiments, Jondahl said.
She noted that no taxpayer money is involved in the creation of the prototype Rover. It was fully funded through proceeds from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
“It’s commissioned as an educational tool,” Jondahl said. “But I just love seeing the kids run around dressed in space suits. One little girl came dressed as a space princess.”
The girl dubbed the vehicle “Sally’s Ride,” after the first U.S. female astronaut in space.
Jondahl said the tour’s mission is to “inspire and educate.” After this, the Mars Rover’s last stop, she said they could stamp it mission accomplished.