One day, NASA astronauts will scout the desolate Martian world in a robust, armored vehicle, and two brothers in Cape Canaveral, Florida, think they know what that extraterrestrial tank might look like, because they designed it.
Marc and Shanon Parker, of Parker Brothers Concepts in Port Canaveral, Florida, typically build badass, futuristic-inspired trucks, cars, and motorcycles that seem fit for the year 3000. So when the people at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex down the road decided to build a prototypical astronaut-operated Mars rover, it knew the ideal garage door on which to knock.
This 400-horsepower, six-wheeled, 28-foot long tank won’t ever leave Earth, but it will go traveling this summer as part of the space center’s “Summer of Mars” tour, an event that is intended to get youngsters (or everyone) stoked about Mars exploration. NASA intends to send humans to the red planet in the 2030s, and it will need engineers, scientists, and (not least) public support to make the ambitious 50-million mile journey there — and back.
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex underscores that the rover concept vehicle was not paid for with taxpayer dollars but funded by the complex itself, which earns money from ticket sales. It will be parked in the Kennedy visitor center after the tour ends.
“The biggest parameter was to inspire,” Marc Parker tells Inverse. “It was form over function. As much as function matters, the form is what gets young kids inspired.”
Don’t be fooled, though: This extraterrestrial roving machine was built for many of the extreme Martian environs, and to provide the astronauts inside workable accommodations.
Former astronaut Jon McBride, who blasted into space on the Challenger shuttle in 1984, advised the Parker brothers on designing a functional exploration machine that would be suited to long ventures in the Martian desert.
“The Mars mission is not a weekend trip — it’s a long trip — and [astronauts] don’t want to be crammed into a tin can. They want to be able to sleep and stand up,” Shanon Parker says.
The sleek, angular exterior of the vehicle, while meant to inspire, might have been necessarily badass because of Mars’s relentless, planet-wide dust storms. “We wanted this thing to withstand these storms, to shake the dust off,” says Marc Parker.
Even the tires were made for Martian terrain, because “there’s no AAA on Mars,” says Marc Parker. NASA’s robotic rovers have gotten stuck in the desert sand, so the Parker brothers gave the vehicle wide, self-cleaning tires meant for rolling through the soft, sandy ground.
NASA scientists and the Parker brothers considered whether the vehicle should be designed with agility for scouting or be a larger, bulkier lab-on-wheels.
“What if it was both those vehicles at the same time?” suggested Shanon Parker.
As such, the rear-end of the vehicle is a detachable lab, giving astronauts the flexibility they need to properly sleuth out the planet.
The sleek, black vehicle ended up taking on a Batmobile-like appearance, but the Parker brothers didn’t have Gotham’s misunderstood vigilante in mind when they designed the vehicle.
“It’s actually not Batmobile inspired,” says Shanon Parker. “It took on that light after we decided that we would make it black. We wanted it to look different than everything else at the space center.”
While Batman wasn’t an influence, the Parker brothers did want to add some menace to the Mars rover’s design.
“I was trying to intimidate aliens,” Shanon Parker says.