Scientists tackle a 1,200 mile arctic road trip to build a better NASA rover

It sounds like an idea for a reality TV show: Four scientists from the Mars Institute are going to be the first to ever drive a road vehicle across the Northwest Passage, embarking on a 1,200 mile journey that will take them far away from the safety of civilization. The route will take the scientists across perilous thin ice, though two them will be on snowmobiles riding to the fore of aft of the vehicle to watch for trouble, and the convoy will stop every few days to look for treacherous ground on satellite images.

Still, it's dangerous, but the danger, the team says, is worth it. The remote conditions will better simulate what the barriers astronauts have to overcome on the surface of the Moon and, in the future, on Mars. The Mars Institute team will come away with a better understanding of what a rover needs to do if it's going to perform a long haul on an extraterrestrial surface.

At the same time, they'll also be able to learn something just as important — how to limit the convoy's contamination of the area. Just like the Northwest Passage, the Moon hasn't had too many human visitors, and Mars has had none. The scientists are especially interested in this angle as, if we do find life on Mars, we want to make sure it's native, and not a hitchhiker from the robotic expeditions we've sent to the red planet.

Popular Mechanics, via Auto Motto