NASA just celebrated another milestone in the history of moon exploration. The New York Times indicated that July 31, 2021 trademarks the 50th anniversary of the first departure of the lunar roving vehicle, and the first time that people drove on the Moon. Apollo 15 astronauts Dave Scott and Jim Irwin took the car for a period to collect samples and explore the lunar surface more effectively than on foot.
Scott and Irwin would eventually drive the rover two more times (for a total of three hours) before returning to Earth. The Apollo 16 and 17 missions each had their own LRV. There was also a fourth rover, but it was used for spare parts after the cancellation of Apollo 18 and other missions. All three service models remained on the Moon.
Early development was problematic, largely due to a lack of real-world testing conditions. After all, they couldn’t exactly take a test drive in the real world. The team ultimately settled on a folding design with steel mesh wheels that could safely handle the Moon’s low gravity, lack of atmosphere, extreme temperatures, and soft ground.
The LRV was modest, with a range of 57 miles, four 0.19kW engines, and an official top speed of 8MPH. It was also expensive, with cost overruns that pushed the price of four rovers to $ 38 million (about $ 249 million in 2021). However, it was key to enhancing scientific exploration during the later stages of the Apollo program, and it was also an early example of a practical electric vehicle: Humans were using battery-powered travel on the Moon decades before the technology became widespread in the earth. .
We wouldn’t have humans driving on the Moon any time soon, although that reflects the progress made in the 50 years since then. NASA and other space agencies are now focusing on robotic rovers that can explore the Moon without worrying about the safety of the crew. Those humans who travel on walks will likely use autonomous vehicles. Think of this anniversary as celebrating a first step into the technology you see today.
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