Autos

Tesla Wasn’t the First Automaker to Explore Space

Tesla’s 2018 launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket — with a Roadster on board — amazed not only the auto world but people everywhere. Many associate Tesla with innovation and now space exploration, so it’s easy to forget that other automakers have been linked to space travel. Here are three car companies that claimed the right to be called “space cowboys.”

1. Toyota

In 2013, Toyota worked jointly with other Japanese companies to develop a robot with a mission of entering space. Specifically responsible for creating the voice recognition software for “Kirobo,” Toyota sent this little, friendly robot to the International Space Station to hone the way robots and humans interact within a zero-gravity environment.

Toyota recently announced a collaboration with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The automaker will help create a “fuel cell-powered lunar rover,” which will house two astronauts for several weeks. At over 19 feet long, the rover will use rechargeable solar cells to drive more than 6,000 miles across the moon. 

2. General Motors

Meet Robonaut, our humanoid robot designed to work side by side with humans, or go where the risks are too great for people. For more info: https://robonaut.jsc.nasa.gov/R2/See more videos of Robonaut in action: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLTXQuaxXBKKyUXfL6Kt9ksfosresu2cpA

Posted by NASA's Johnson Space Center on Thursday, November 3, 2016

It’s not surprising that an iconic American automaker has a long history with space exploration. Back in 1971, NASA enlisted General Motors and Boeing to help develop an electric lunar rover for use in the Apollo 15 mission. This 1971 lunar rover helped create many new technologies. It also led the way for future lunar rovers, reports the News Wheel.

Though General Motors has worked with NASA for decades, its recent contribution is the GM Robonaut 2. According to MSN, GM unveiled this robotic, humanoid astronaut Robonaut 2 in 2010. Then, NASA sent it off to perform “dexterous tasks in dangerous environments” aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 2011.

GM and NASA also partnered to create the battery-powered RoboGlove. This can be used by astronauts to sense pressure and add strength where the body needs it to reduce fatigue.

3. Chrysler

Many people may not know Chrysler once operated a successful missile-factory in both Detroit and New Orleans. In fact, the automaker is responsible for building missiles, Jupiter and Juno, which launched America’s first satellite.

Chrysler originally designed the Redstone missile in the ’50s to carry a nuclear warhead, reports Autoblog. Then, they modified it to carry America’s Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom into space. The automaker also helped build the first stage of Saturn I and IB launch vehicles.

Honorable mentions

Audi

In 2016, Audi partnered with German group Part-Time Scientists to design, build, and launch a small, unmanned moon rover into orbit. Dubbed the Audi Lunar Quattro, it will touch down on the moon at the Apollo 17 landing site (NASA’s final lunar mission of 1972).

Audi claimed an initial launch in 2017 and then rescheduled it for 2019. According to GeekWire, recent financial problems may result in another extension for the year 2021. The Audi rover is expected to use Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system, with innovative e-tron propulsion technology. This will give it a top speed of around 2.2 mph.

Ford

This iconic automaker is involved in everything from cars to TVs and other consumer appliances. When Ford acquired Philco in 1961, the automaker delved into the world of space. In fact, Ford became the prime contractor for NASA’s iconic Mission Control in 1963.

Now on the National Register of Historic Places, Ford-built Mission Control has overseen 21 space shuttle flights, nine Gemini missions, and all the Apollo missions.