Earlier this month we were invited to the Johnson Space Center by NASA and Fox Home Entertainment, and there we were taken on a ride in the Mars rover. The rover isn’t actually called “Mars rover” by its creators – its official name is “Space Exploration Vehicle” because of its intended purpose: any ol’ planet will do. So will an asteroid. We’re going to the moon, to Mars, and even (possibly) to an asteroid as it hurtles through space. As such, this is the vehicle astronauts will be riding in once they land. Much like The Martian.
In the film The Martian, Matt Damon plays astronaut Mark Watney, a fellow who has to survive on Mars for an extended period using only the equipment his compatriots have left behind. One of these pieces of equipment is a rover.
In the film, this rover goes by the name Mars Decent Vehicle. In real life, the Space Exploration Vehicle has another name: Mars Exploration Vehicle.
The location we explored with this vehicle was called, lovingly, The Rock Yard. This is just one of a set of locations this vehicle has gone – it’s been to Black Point Lava Flow in Arizona back in 2008 and is used for ground tests of all sorts.
This vehicle will (eventually) have a pressurized cabin – not unlike the MDV in The Martian – and has plenty of room for computer displays and equipment that’d be able to accomplish the communications shown in the film as well.
Also like the film, the interior of the MEV (or SEV) is designed to house astronauts for many days at a time. The rover’s pressurization feature will allow two astronauts to survive for 14 days at a time.
As you’ll see here, this vehicle is designed for high visibility throughout its frontmost port. Astronauts will be able to see forward, left, right, up, and down – with a magnifying section in the center bottom window.
This machine is fully operational. While software will be modified for each individual mission, much like the hardware, everything this vehicle needs to do to give astronauts proper training on its future use is already rolling – you’ll see the vehicle’s proprietary software working in front of our host in the gallery below.
Also there’s a switch. Don’t touch the switch!
Note the Logitech wireless keyboard – this bit probably won’t be going with to Mars. They’ll have better keyboards each year like they always do, and will more likely bring a keyboard made in 2028 than this one.
The wheels on this vehicle aren’t quite as massive as they are on the rover in The Martian, but they do their job extremely well.
We went up and down this hill of rocks and down a slope to a creek – the whole moving wheelbase and wheels situation makes this vehicle extremely well balanced.
The video you’re seeing here shows us dipping down near the creek. The outdoors aren’t all that visible here, but you’ll hear our host telling us what’d happen if we went too deep into the water.
The above and below videos are 360-degree spherical, prepared for interactive exploration and, if you’re a mobile user, ready to be used in virtual reality with Google Cardboard.
Below the video shows a better view of the outside of the vehicle while we’re driving. Here we’re at the top of the rock mountain.
Next you’ll see the many patches and team logos this vehicle has acquired thus far. We imagine it’ll be a part of more mission than one before it’s eventually replaced by something fancier.
Much like all modern self-driving vehicles as well as vehicles with back-up cameras, the SEV is equipped with multiple means of viewing its surroundings.
This camera sits in the center of the NASA logo and provides the driver with views he or she’d be otherwise unable to see from the driver’s seat.
On the back of the vehicle you’ll see a space suit. This is not necessarily the same suit you’ll see used when we head to Mars, but it is used for training purposes.
To see more of this rover in action, keep tuned to NASA via our Space tag portal. The Martian will be released digitally on the 22nd of this month (December 2015) and will be out on 3D Blu-ray and DVD starting on January 12th, 2016.