Contrary to the speculation of some folks, Area 51 has never been in the business of testing Robotic Rovers for NASA.
Here is an important clarification by Peter Merlin, military aviation historian – – – September 8, 2016, from the Dreamland Resort:
NASA does not test Robotic Rovers at Area 51.
If it was necessary to test such vehicles in a secluded location, there are many such places both on military reservations and public lands that don’t require special security clearances.
NASA carried out four field trials with the Field Integration Design and Operations (FIDO) Mars rover demonstrator during the lead-up to the Mars Exploration Rovers mission, including tests at Silver Lake, California (1999); Black Rock Summit, Nevada (2000); Soda Mountains, California (2001); and Grey Mountain, Arizona (2002).
Testing in Nevada took place in the Black Rock Summit area between Tonopah and Ely. “We chose the location because it’s sort of remote — so you don’t have a lot of people poking around,” said researcher Kris Larsen, a graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis in an interview with news reporters.
The field experiment was conducted in northeastern Nevada in an uninhabited area along state highway Route 6, northeast of the Lunar Crater volcanic field. The area is characterized by extensive outcrops of rhyolite flows and ash deposits that have been hydrothermally altered, together with an abundance of relatively recent basalt flows and ash deposits overlying sedimentary deposits. Thus, the materials found at the site represented those to be explored on Mars by similar robotic rovers.
The FIDO prototype Mars rover was deployed and operated remotely at Black Rock Summit for two weeks in May 2000 to evaluate the extent to which FIDO-class rovers could be used to conduct traverse science and collect samples.
In an exercise to test the ability to use two rovers synergistically, a second rover, called K9, was also tested at Black Rock Summit. The K9 rover traversed 30 meters desert landscape and acquired 1.3 gigabytes of data.
Operators controlled FIDO remotely from JPL in Pasadena, California. To add to the realism of the Nevada test, mission navigators in Pasadena did not know the rover’s location except that it was somewhere in the United States. They had to image the area, plot the course and find interesting rocks.
The traverse began at GPS coordinates 38.507731, -115.893430 and ended at 38.507941, -115.893044
Interesting fact: The K9 rover passed within 2 meters of the leg bone of a large animal (probably a cow) during its traverse. This object was not noticed by the remote science team.
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