Mars rover parks at The Battery next to SunTrust Park for weekend

The 3-ton monster resting by the curb at The Battery Atlanta adjacent to SunTrust Park seemed like a creature of fantasy, not science.

Four-year-old Sawyer Lohlein looked it up and down. “Is that the Batmobile?” he asked his father.

“That’s not the Batmobile,” responded Matt Lohlein. No, it was something even more preposterous: a concept car that may be driving around the planet Mars in a few years, with four astronauts on board.

A Mars mission? “I think it’s going to happen,” said Lohlein, of Vinings, a hotel industry franchise developer and former Floridian. Lohlein has watched shuttle launches up close, and he can visualize this Mars rover being delivered to the red planet, 33 million miles away at perigee.

In the meantime, Atlantans can see this concept vehicle Friday, Saturday and Sunday, while it’s being displayed on The Battery Atlanta adjacent to SunTrust Park and dream about interplanetary hot-rodding.

NASA's new Mars rover needs a name and you can help.

The Mars rover was created by the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in cooperation with the Space Coast office of tourism as part of a promotional effort to bring visitors to Melbourne, Cocoa Beach, Palm Bay and other Florida destinations. The idea is that a day at the space center will be part of a beach escape.

(And anyone who’s ever been to Kennedy will attest that it’s worth a day.)

The rover was created by Parker Brothers Concepts, “with input from NASA-engineer science and based on NASA-engineer specifications,” according to the Kennedy Space Center. (Not surprisingly, Parker Brothers, a concept-car outfit, also built street-legal replica of Batman’s “Tumbler.”)

Marc and Shanon Parker began working on the Mars rover last November. Marc wouldn’t tell Business Insider the cost, but told the publication, “If I thought about how many hours we put into this thing, I’d probably cry. It’s way too many.”

A view of the “cockpit” in the Mars rover reveals a complex concept vehicle. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM (Bob Andres/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The space center thoughtfully points out that the vehicle has not, in fact, been to Mars. Any rovers that have been to Mars were unmanned rovers, and they’re all still there. Nor will this one be going. But it is a credible version of a vehicle suited to Earth’s dusty neighbor. Kennedy’s representatives didn’t describe its cost, but stress that it was funded by ticket sales at the center’s visitor complex. “The visitor complex receives no tax dollars,” they add.

NASA has committed to a Mars mission in the next two decades, and astronaut Jon McBride said it will be worth it, whatever the cost.

Astronaut Jon McBride takes the (Cobb News Now Facebook) page on a tour of a Mars rover concept vehicle that was parked outside The Battery. (Cobb News Now Facebook)

“We need something Kennedy-esque,” said McBride, who, in 1984, flew the space shuttle Challenger on an eight-day mission. He stood by the rover on Thursday, looking surprisingly cool in a bright-blue NASA jumpsuit despite the hot Georgia sun. He is accompanying the rover on its tour of five cities, which will bring the vehicle up to Washington, D.C., New Jersey, New York and then back South to make a visit to North Point Mall in Alpharetta in August.

President John F. Kennedy’s moon-shot ambitions helped tie the nation together at a time when things were falling apart, McBride said. “We need a common goal. I lived through the ’60s. It was the most turbulent time in our history,” he said. “Had we not had that common goal, we might not have held together at all.”

McBride, 73, retired from NASA and the Navy in 1989, and today works as part of the Astronaut Encounter team at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Tall, white-haired, confident, he is a perfect ambassador for space travel, and the consummate astronaut, down to his aviator glasses and Chuck Yeager drawl.

“I love to see him answering questions,” said McBride’s daughter Melissa DeGuibert, who lives in Suwanee and attended the rover display with her dad. “I’m always learning something new about him.”

Quick facts:

  • The rover has six wheels, each 50 inches tall and 36 inches wide, designed to travel on fine Martian sand.
  • It’s built of aluminum and carbon fiber.
  • It’s powered by solar panels and a 700-volt battery.
  • The vehicle includes a detachable laboratory.
  • Top speed: 6 miles per hour.

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