Mars concept vehicle offers glimpse into future of space exploration

The Mars rover prototype landed at Liberty Science Center with the goal of inspiring future space explorers.

It’s 5,500 pounds and close to 11 feet tall. It’s no surprise that this Mars rover, commissioned by the Kennedy Space Center, caught eyes at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City when it made a stop there on its tour around the country last month.

It’s a prototype of what people could be driving when they live on Mars. Right now, there are rovers on Mars’ surface, but this vehicle would allow people to one day travel the planet and have a habitat and laboratory.

“There’s a laboratory in the back, there’s four seats up there so there are all kinds of monitors so they could be determining the terrain and what the temperature is like and the elements outside,” said tour guide Dana Jondahl with Kennedy Space Center’s “Summer of Mars” traveling exhibit.

As we head inside the Mars rover to get a closer look, former NASA astronaut Jon McBride showed us around. He told us about his mission in 1984 on the space shuttle Challenger.

“I was very fortunate to be in the first class of space shuttle astronauts to join NASA in 1978, the first American woman Sally Ride was in my class, first African-American Guy Bluford, so it was a very unique group of highly skilled individuals,” said McBride.

He said before you ever get on a space ship for takeoff, you have about two years of specific training for the particular mission, followed by two to three years of basic training. But once you lift off, he said, it’s a rush.

“When the actual shuttle lifts off, we’re going 100 miles an hour by the time the tail gets to the top of the tower, and after about two to three minutes I’m being pushed into my seat three times the force of gravity,” McBride said.

McBride said he was lucky to live out his dream to fly the space shuttle. Now, he’s hoping the next generation is inspired to find a way to Mars to do further research.

“We know there was water on Mars at one time in its history, lots of it,” said McBride. “They have a Grand Canyon that’s essentially from San Diego to New York City, and deeper and wider.”

McBride said that indicates there could have been life at one time. “So what happened to it?” he asks.

By going there we might find the answer to that question and in turn find out more about Earth. With the support of Congress and the president, McBride said we could be on Mars in the next 10 to 15 years.

“The first human to go to Mars is likely already born,” said McBride. “Do you know that that means you can be the first human to go to Mars?”

Liberty Science Center President and CEO Paul Hoffman said the Mars concept car shows off the future of space research and technology, but it also gives kids a chance to consider becoming the next space scientists and technologists.

“When I was seven, my neighbor let me look through a telescope and see the rings of Saturn and I was hooked on science and space science,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman hopes the Mars rover will do the same. And sitting with an astronaut, it’s easy to feel excited about the possibility of going to Mars.

We’re in this together
For a better-informed future. Support our nonprofit newsroom.
Donate to NJ Spotlight