WOODSTOCK – With NASA’s OSIRIS-REx making a successful landing on asteroid Bennu in December, more missions are planned, including advanced rovers that will drive over larger bodies in the asteroid belt as soon as 2024. To test these rovers, NASA scientists have found the closest conditions on earth that will mimic the surface of the average asteroid: Vermont’s roadways.
“These conditions are ideal,” shouted one NASA engineer over the sound of a prototype rover loudly making its way down Route 4 in Woodstock. “We’ve never seen anything so close to asteroid conditions that wasn’t created in a lab. And honestly, even in a lab I don’t know that we could create this level of hazard and uncertainty. It’s almost identical to what we’ve seen on Bennu, and in fact even a little worse.”
Vermonters trying to get to work were honking at the rover as it slowly moved down the highway, but some said it wasn’t so different from any other morning.
“Are they running some sort of simulation here?” asked one driver, rolling down her window to ask the NASA folk some questions. “Trying to simulate driving to work behind a tractor? I think they’ve got the speed right, but the visibility is too good. Can you guys make it a little bigger? I can still kind of see around it.”
NASA expects to have completed the tests by August, and will even name one of the rovers “Woodstock,” after the town in which their new machine learned to drive.