NASA will be renting some cool wheels to drive around the moon.

Space agency officials announced on Wednesday that they have hired three companies to come up with preliminary designs for vehicles to take NASA astronauts around the lunar south polar region in the coming years. After the astronauts return to Earth, these vehicles would be able to self-drive around as robotic explorers, similar to NASA’s rovers on Mars.

The self-driving capability would also allow the vehicle to meet the next astronaut mission at a different location.

“Where it will go, there are no roads,” Jacob Bleacher, the chief exploration scientist at NASA, said at a news conference on Wednesday. “Its mobility will fundamentally change our view of the moon.”

The companies are Intuitive Machines of Houston, which in February successfully landed a robotic spacecraft on the moon; Lunar Outpost of Golden, Colo.; and Venturi Astrolab of Hawthorne, Calif. Only one of the three will actually build a vehicle for NASA and send it to the moon.

NASA had asked for proposals of what it called the lunar terrain vehicle, or L.T.V., that could drive at speeds up to 9.3 miles per hour, travel a dozen miles on a single charge and allow astronauts to drive around for eight hours.

The agency will work with the three companies for a year to further develop their designs. Then NASA will choose one of them for the demonstration phase.


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