Lunar Roving Vehicle
Man landing on the moon, placing those first steps, those were exciting times. I still recall the astronauts sort of skipping along the surface, bouncing a bit due to the reduced gravity the moon offers.
There was more excitement to come, with Alan Shepard of Apollo 14, being given what looked like a golf cart to carry tools for gathering samples. In those tools was a specially designed tool that allowed Shepard to attach a golf club head to a handle. Shepard hit a couple of golf balls on the moon, for perhaps the longest drive ever. I still recall hearing him say they went miles and miles. Thankfully, he didn’t have to putt, that moon dust would have made that task difficult.
The big excitement for me came with Apollo 15 and the two remaining missions. What kid watching video from the moon wouldn’t instantly fall in love with that Lunar Rover. A cross between a car and a go cart, that thing looked cool!! What better place to spin the tires than the moon.
The rover had electrical drive, each wheel having a motor. It could be operated as two-wheel or four-wheel drive. Top speed of about 8 mph, but on the moon with all the dust, that was plenty. It didn’t have typical tires, they were made from wire mesh, more like window screen. The wheels had aluminum strips mounted on them to provide traction. There was no need for heavy rubber tires, since reduced gravity meant a smaller load on the tires. The weight of the rover on Earth was under 500 pounds, on the moon this translated into less than 80 pounds.
The batteries provided a range of about 22 miles, but being cautious, NASA never allowed the 2-man crew to wonder more than moon walking distance from the LM. There was concern the astronauts could run out of air walking back to the LM, if the rover broke down at such a distance. The reins were loosened a bit more on the final Apollo mission. The 3 rovers never did break down, though, there were some issues with fenders falling off. The wire mesh tires kicked up a lot of moon dust, sometimes covering the astronauts and on occasion getting into the electronics.
NASA is planning to return to the moon and eventually hopes to send a crew to Mars, something no nation on Earth has attempted. The United States is the only country that has sent men to the moon. China has expressed interest in visiting the moon, even establishing a moon base. The United States may need to establish a small base on the moon before venturing on to Mars. The base could be used to mine or obtain water for the long journey to Mars. The Orion space capsule is being developed for the return to the moon, but could also be used for the journey to Mars. One can only wonder what vehicle might replace the moon rover, below is a picture of a concept vehicle being considered for those trips. The concept vehicle would allow the crew inside to survive for up to 14 days. Again, NASA will have to be concerned with possible equipment failure and not allow the crew to venture too far from any lander. They will have to consider the dangers of possible wind storms on Mars, obscuring vision, making a return trip to the lander difficult, much like venturing out in a blizzard.