Ever since telescopes were discovered, humans have been exploring the surface of the moon – our close cosmic neighbor. Lunar exploration vehicles were first developed in the 1950s. However, the rapid development of the aerospace technology led to only a decade separation between the first flyby forays and Neil Armstrong’s history-making steps on the moon’s surface.
In January 1959 Luna 1 flew by the moon at a distance of about 3,725 miles. Even though the spacecraft did not reach the moon’s surface as planned, it reached the vicinity of the satellite. Its scientific equipment helped scientists discover for the first time that the moon had no magnetic field. Luna 1 also showed evidence of space phenomena, such as the steady flow of solar wind – a stream of charged particles released from the upper atmosphere of the Sun.
Later in 1959, Luna 2 became the first spacecraft to land on the moon. In 1959 again, Luna 3 made the first circumnavigation of the moon to get the very first pictures of its far side. In 1966, Luna 9 made the first lunar soft landing on the moon. In 1970, Luna 16 was the first unmanned spacecraft to bring lunar soil samples from the moon to our planet. In the same year, Luna 17 soft-landed a robot vehicle called Lunokhod 1, which helped transmit live photos of the moon’s surface. In 1974, Luna 22 orbited the moon several times while performing space research in its vicinity. In 1976, Luna 24 carried soil samples taken deep below the moon’s surface.
Toyota, the Japanese automotive manufacturer recently announced its plans to build a manned lunar rover to explore the moon’s surface in 2029. The company is forming an alliance with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Japan’s space agency for the mission. The lunar rover is touted to carry two astronauts, who can stay in it without having to wear spacesuits.
The vehicle is not a real thing yet. However, it is likely to be about 6 meters long, 5.2 meters wide with a height of 3.8 meters. According to the company, they would be using the fuel cell technology for the lunar rover as it will enable it to travel large distances across the moon’s surface. The cabin is 13 cubic meter in size.
Akio Toyoda, President of Toyota said, “The automotive industry has long done business with the concepts of ‘hometown’ and ‘home country’ largely in mind. However, from now on, in responding to such matters as environmental issues of global scale, the concept of ‘home planet’, from which all of us come, will become a very important concept. Going beyond the frameworks of countries or regions, I believe that our industry, which is constantly thinking about the role it should fulfill, shares the same aspirations of international space exploration. Furthermore, cars are used in all of Earth’s regions, and, in some regions, cars play active roles as partners for making sure that people come back alive.”