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Rick Steelhammer: Keeping up with Toyota to be US automakers' mission on NASA's next Moon shot?

Last week was a big one for Toyota, the Steelhammer Compound’s exclusive motorcar supplier.

First, the company announced it will invest $13 billion in its U.S. factories, including the one down the river in Putnam County, over the next 10 years. The next day, Toyota let it be known it was working with the Japanese space agency to design and build a lunar vehicle in time for a planned landing on the moon in 2029.

It won’t be any compact car that rolls out of the Japanese lunar lander’s cargo bay once the spacecraft touches down. The open, two-seat, dune buggy-style lunar rovers that NASA provided American astronauts in the 1970s would be dwarfed by the six-wheeled, 12-foot-tall, fully pressurized off-road RV Toyota designers envision.

Two crew members — four in an emergency — would live in the pressurized cabin of the Moon-roving, 20-feet-long, 17-feet-wide Toyota, wearing earthling clothes as they roll past craters and boulders for up to 6,200 miles before the rig’s hydrogen-oxygen fuel cells run dry. Toyotas always have gotten decent mileage — a trait that’s especially important when the nearest gas station is 239,000 miles away.

Toyota is not the first automaker to design vehicles for the space race. NASA’s lunar rovers were built in cooperation with General Motors, and a miniature 77-pound Audi Quattro is now being readied by a group of German scientists to travel by remote control a few hundred yards across the lunar surface sometime in the next two years.

From its planned landing zone, the tiny, robotic Audi all-wheel-drive vehicle will travel at speeds of up to 2.2 miles per hour to the site of the 1972 Apollo landing, where it will send back to Earth video and still images of the lunar rover that remains there.

Two years ago, President Donald Trump signed a directive instructing NASA to return astronauts to the moon for long-term exploration as soon as possible. To help stretch funding dollars and elevate America’s technological profile in meeting that goal, Trump and his successors may seek help from U.S. automakers to design and build a lunar vehicle superior to those made by companies based in Germany and Japan.

For what it’s worth, and admittedly it’s not much, I heartily endorse one American car company — Lincoln — to build our nation’s next moon rover.

Being selected to design and build the vehicle presents a great marketing opportunity for U.S. automakers. That’s why I heartily endorse naming Lincoln Motors as NASA’s official purveyor — provided they sign up Matthew McConaughey, producer and star of the company’s spacey, otherworldly television commercials, to handle lunar driving duties.

I can envision a commercial being beamed back to Earth of the actor suddenly leaving a festive dinner of freeze-dried food with other astronauts in the Lincoln Lunar Navigator’s pressurized cabin to practice slow-motion trick shots by himself on a pool table in one-sixth the gravity found on Earth.

Then, after rolling an imaginary marble between his fingers and nodding thoughtfully to himself in a rear-view mirror, McConaughey takes the wheel of the Lincoln and drives the NASA crew toward a barren horizon, mumbling something about it being “time to take the long road home” as a billboard advertising Tang comes into view.

McConaughey stops, stares at the sign, and then begins laughing hysterically.

I hope his mission is as long as it is successful.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

Funerals for Friday, September 20, 2019

Barton, Richard - 3 p.m., Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery, Dunbar.

Birthisel, Avis - 11 a.m., Casdorph & Curry Funeral Home, St. Albans.

Call, Denver - Noon, Allen Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Dearien, Tommie - Noon, Stevens & Grass Funeral Home, Malden.

Fletcher, Joanna - 1 p.m., Curry Funeral Home, Alum Creek.

Keeney, Steven - 2 p.m., Keith Full Gospel Church, Keith.

May, Rosa - 2 p.m., Bartlett - Nichols Funeral Home, St. Albans.

Morris, Linda - 1 p.m., Deal Funeral Home, Point Pleasant.

Parsons, Harry - 11 a.m., Ellyson Mortuary Inc., Glenville.

Pauley, Clarence - 10 a.m., Cunningham Memorial Park, St. Albans.

Pino, Patricia - 11 a.m., Bradley FreeWill Baptist Church.

Rogers, Marilyn - 11 a.m., Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, South Charleston.

Satterfield, Kenneth - 5 p.m., Satterfield residence, 1161 Daniels Run Road, Millstone.