NASA Engineers Drift Lunar Electric Rovers

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NASA Engineers put on a show for fans last week, hooning two brand-new Lunar Electric Rovers in public. The Rover's 12 pivoting wheels allow it to drive "crab-style." That's NASA speak for sideways.

The Lunar Electric Rover, which joined President Obama's inauguration parade, was designed for future missions to the moon where its pressurized cabin would allow astronauts to explore huge distance free from encumbrance of bulky space suits. The LER weighs over 8,800 Lbs and its electric motors only allow it reach a top speed of 6.2 MPH. That's the same as the Lunar Rover that travelled to the moon with Apollo 15 in 1971. But, unlike its distant ancestor, the new LER can travel up to 150 miles from the base ship and is capable of doubling as a solar storm shelter should astronauts encounter unexpected radiation from Solar Particle Events. Its oversized airlock is specially shielded for that purpose and can double as a sort lifeboat should anything else go wrong, sustaining two astronauts without their spacesuits for up to 72 hours.

Sadly, the future of the LER is in doubt. Created for the series of lunar missions given the green light during the Bush administration, budget cuts could postpone future moon missions for at least a decade.

NASA actually has a proud history of hoonage. This video from the Apollo 16 mission shows astronauts putting their rover through its initial shakedown tests. The first thing they did? See how fast it would go.