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NASA’s New Mars Rover Has INSPECTOR GADGET-esque Front Axel

NASA engineers have revealed a new prototype rover, which has an Inspector Gadget-style front axel. The rover—DuAxel—has one axel that can depart from its main body and explore on its own thanks to a tether. This ability to split into two, DuAxel’s builders say, will allow it to explore otherwise impassable terrains on Mars and the Moon.

Futurism reported on the new rover, which NASA showcased in a recent press release. DuAxel, according to the space agency, is a “flexible rover” that can travel long distances and rappel into hard-to-reach areas. Its engineers specifically designed it to explore crater walls, pits, scarps, and vents on other celestial bodies. (A scarp, by the way, is a very steep bank or slope.)

“The key advantage of using DuAxel is made clear when you have landing site uncertainty,” Patrick Mcgarey, a robotic technologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said in the release. “[DuAxel] enables untethered driving from the landing site and allows for temporary anchoring to the terrain because it is essentially a transforming robot made for planetary exploration,” Mcgarey added.

NASA's new Mars rover can split into two smaller rovers.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/J.D. Gammell

In regards to the rover’s design, it’s modular, and consists of two two-wheeled rovers, each called Axel—hence the name DuAxel. When scientists want to investigate something, they have the rover anchor itself to the ground by lowering its chassis. DuAxel then splits in two, having one Axel depart while it remains connected to the main rover with a tether. The roaming Axel can then explore hazardous areas, and even take measurements with instruments in its wheel hub.

A team of JPL engineers has already tested DuAxel in the Mojave Desert in California, and they say it is indeed durable and versatile. The rover, for example, was able to split, and autonomously maneuver steep and rocky slopes. The roaming Axel was also able to deploy its scientific instruments without the use of a robot arm.

NASA's new Mars rover can split into two smaller rovers.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/J.D. Gammell

Along with the Moon and Mars, DuAxel’s builders say it could also explore Mercury, and even Jupiter’s moon, Europa. I.e. some of the most daunting terrains in our solar system. And this is exactly why the rover’s so enticing, Laura Kerber, a planetary geologist at JPL says. “Instead of always trying to safeguard itself against dangers such as falling or flipping over, it is designed to withstand them.”  Which sounds exactly like how everyone’s favorite animated inspector operates.

Feature image: NASA