April 2010- Picture a world where the temperature can dip to -200 degrees Fahrenheit (but averages -67 degrees Fahrenheit) and powdery, abrasive dust swirls through the air. There are no sources of food or water to be found, and you are millions of miles from home.
Welcome to Mars, an uncharted territory in terms of manned missions into space. NASAaims to send humans to the Red Planet by 2037, but work has already begun on some components of the mission.
Specifically, Westmont, Ill.-based Montgomery Design International, in collaboration with Ergonomic Systems Design, Santa Barbara, Calif., has designed a conceptual vehicle to allow astronauts to maneuver on Mars' terrain.
The Manned Mars Exploration Rover is still a concept, says Gregg Montgomery, president and CEO of Montgomery Design International. He points out that the design will more than likely go through many iterations before 2037.
He also says, though, that Montgomery Design International continues to work on the concept and that he is confident some of its original design concepts will be incorporated into the final vehicle.
"I'm sure things are going to change between now and then, and certainly technology is going to improve and progress," says Montgomery. "Nonetheless, we think a lot of the basic parameters are going to stay the same, so we're sure many of our ideas will make their way into whatever vehicles end up there."
Recognition and inspiration
Montgomery Design International and Ergonomic Systems Design earned a 2009 Good Design award from The Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design.
"The rover, with its bold, futuristic design, goes where no land vehicles have gone before [and is] designed to work in the harsh conditions of Mars," according to a press release from the organization. "The design is not only for transport but also a life-support system for the working astronaut occupants."
In regard to the vehicle's aesthetic appeal and different look, Montgomery says it stems from a simple philosophy.
"My basic criteria for vehicle design is: Would I really want to be seen driving this thing? If the answer is no, then the design is probably inappropriate," he says.
Awards are nothing new for Montgomery Design International. The firm has been recognized on numerous occasions for its designs of agricultural equipment, construction equipment and consumer products.
Montgomery says he and his team of industrial designers, digital modelers and industrial design modelers drew on the firm's experience in these areas while developing the concept for the Mars Rover.
"This is something unique, of course, in the fact that it's intended to be used on another planet, and it was quite different from anything else we'd had to consider," he says. "Nonetheless, there were a lot of carryovers. Some of the things you see in the basic vehicle design are learned from some of our work in agricultural equipment and construction equipment."
Montgomery cites the windshield of the Rover as a prime example of this, saying the prevalence of dust on the Red Planet is thought to be a potential hinderance for future exploration.
"We tried to do everything we could to eliminate the buildup of dust getting into components and limiting visibility, so we reversed the angle of the windshield so dust would not tend to collect on it," says Montgomery. "It also gives a better view--you can actually lean up into the windshield and look virtually straight down if you need to. That concept comes from combine design for agricultural equipment because that's basically what combine operators sometimes have to do."
The right stuff
Many materials will make up the Rover, which is 32 feet long at this stage of design and can hold four astronauts--up to six in a pinch.
The Rover's interior colors were chosen to be complementary to the prevailing rust-red color of Mars. It has been proven that over extended periods, monochromatic environments can be an irritant, according to Montgomery.
He also says titanium will be a major player because of its strength-to-weight ratio and ability to function in a wide range of temperatures.
"That would certainly play a big part, as far as chassis components, suspension components and even some of the framing of the body itself," Montgomery says.
Additionally, aluminum extrusions are slated to make up part of the Rover, as well as a boron, aluminum and magnesium alloy. that would be used on the lab and crew module slides.
"It's a very lightweight and hard material, plus it has some innate lubricating properties, so even with the abrasive kind of dust and grit that you will see on Mars, [the alloy] should hold up well," says Montgomery.
Montgomery Design International is working on a scale model of the Rover, which is scheduled to be on display at The Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design for several months this summer.
As the project evolves and the actual Rover goes from concept to reality, Montgomery says he hopes it reflects an interest in and continuing commitment to space exploration.
"For whatever reason, our project has really caught people's attention," he says. "It's in man's DNA to search and explore wherever he can and especially where he hasn't been before. I don't think we're going to give up on that." MM