Mars rover lands on Target parking lot in Colorado |

Mars rover lands on Target parking lot in Colorado

Missouri University of Science and Technology students put the final touches on a rover for a competition in Utah while stranded in a Silverthorne parking lot.
Elise Reuter / |

Stranded in a Target parking lot, a Mars Rover Design Team waited patiently for backup. En route to the Mars Desert Research station in Hanksville, Utah, their shuttle bus lost its brakes, and the team was towed down to Silverthorne from the tunnel.

Headquartered in Rolla, Missouri, the team of Missouri University of Science and Technology (S&T) students wouldn’t get a backup bus until Tuesday night. So they got to work, putting the final touches on their rover and giving it a test drive around the lot.

“We’re building the next generation of rovers,” said Alyssa McCarthy, an S&T business major.

A team of 60 students put together the complex piece of machinery, which is designed to be able to effectively cross Martian deserts, drill and gather samples, flip switches at a command and hand tools to scientists.

For example, the rover’s bowl-shaped tires are constructed from a carbon fiber Kevlar weave, with flexible strips that allow it to “paddle” through the fine sand. Hanksville is the selected location for the University Rover Challenge, as well as the Mars Desert Research Station, with a terrain that is one of the most analogous to the red planet.

The team of undergraduate students had one year to design, build and test the rover named Zenith. As an extracurricular group, they also worked to find funding for the project, including university and alumni grants as well as corporate sponsors.

“The interesting thing about this team is it’s very inter-disciplinary,” said Joshua Reed, a computer science and engineering major. He assisted with the telemetry and controls team, helping program commands allowing users to control the rover with a computer.

While Zenith made its first test drive back in February, the team took it for a spin around the park Tuesday afternoon to see if modifications to the device made it more effective. The students spent most of the day in the parking lot, adding cameras, tightening connections and working to make the rover more reliable.

During busy weeks, such as just before the rover’s first test drive, team members spent up to 20 or 30 hours per week on the project.

“It really never is (done),” said Jonathan Boyson, who is pursuing degrees in both aerospace and mechanical engineering.

With the University Rover Challenge set for Thursday, June 2, the team should roll into town just in time for the competition. This also won’t be S&T’s first rodeo; the team was created in 2012 and has taken home a first-place award for the U.S. and second-place worldwide.

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