While you’re watching the moon pass in front of the sun today, know that the furthest we ever drove from home was the time we drove around on that rock, and the car’s still up there.
On July 26, 1971, Commander David Scott and Lunar Module Pilot James Irwin and Command Module Pilot Al Worden left the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard Apollo 15, bound for what NASA would eventually consider the most successful space mission to date. It was the first mission to utilize a lunar rover, which allowed the crew to explore the Moon’s surface much further from the Lunar Module.
Boeing, Bendix, Grumman, and Chrysler all submitted proposals to build the Apollo Lunar Roving Vehicle.
Boeing won the contract as the prime contractor in October 1969. General Motors’ Defense Research Laboratories in Santa Barbara, California, provided the complete mobility system, including the wheels, electric motors and suspension. Boeing delivered the electronics and navigation system.
LRVs were designed to be lightweight and able to carry two astronauts and their gear. Weighing in at 462 pounds, the Rovers could carry over a thousand pounds in payload.
The chassis was hinged in the middle so the entire vehicle could fold up and store in the Lunar Module.
Safety gear included a seatbelt made of Velcro.
The wheels on the LRV are an engineering marvel. Designed by General Motors Defense Research Laboratories, the wheels consisted of a spun aluminum hub and a 32-inch tire made of zinc-coated, woven steel strands attached to the rim. Titanium chevrons were attached to the mesh to provide traction.
Rather than an engine and a drivetrain, each wheel on the LRV had its own Delco electric motor, capable of 0.25hp.
The LRV was controlled by a single joystick accessible from either seat, which started, stopped, turned and reversed the vehicle.
Using the LRVs, astronauts from Apollo 15, 16 and 17 were able to travel significantly further from the Lunar Module than ever before. Apollo 17 astronauts drove 12.5 miles away from their base at the Lunar Module.
The Apollo Lunar Roving Vehicle’s final cost was $38,000,000 — in 1971 dollars. Of course, that’s for ALL the Rovers, but there were only four ever built.
Several LRVs are on display, but they’ve never been to the Moon. They were either trainers or built of spare parts. The LRVs that went to the Moon stayed there, because the lower stage of the lunar landers in which the LRVs were stored were abandoned, as well.
And before these cars were built, NASA tried all kinds of prototypes, one of which just resurfaced in the last few years. We wrote a story about this out-of-this-world barn find.