First Carpool On The Moon

The crew returned home after about three hours and 17 miles, leaving the rover behind on the moon.

Have you heard of the first time man drove to the moon? In 1971, crewed by Commander David R. Scott, Command Module Pilot Alfred M. Worden, and Lunar Module Pilot James B. Irwin, Apollo 15 took off, and along with them was the first Lunar Roving Vehicle, or LRV for short. This 460-pound (208 kg) marvel would clock 17.5 miles (28 km) around the lunar landscape as part of its mission.

Designed to operate in the low gravity vacuum of the moon and allow Apollo astronauts to further their extravehicular activities, the LRV was light, with a frame constructed of aluminum alloy 2219 tubing welded assemblies. The three-part chassis hinged in the center, enabling it to be folded up and stowed away in the Lunar Module quad one bay. A large mesh dish antenna was mounted on the rover’s front center mast, and for seats, two foldable tubular aluminum seats with nylon webbing were provided.

What about the steering, you may ask? The LRV did not have a conventional steering wheel. Instead, a T-shaped hand controller between the two seats controlled the four drive motors, the two steering motors, and the brakes. The LRV propelled forward or left or right when the controller was moved in the same direction and braked when it was pulled backward.

To not lose direction on such unknown terrain, a navigation system continuously recorded direction and distance with a directional gyro and odometer that then fed into a computer. Speed, heading, pitch, power, and temperature levels are displayed on the control modules located in front of the handle.

But the design and planning weren’t all smooth. Moondust (fine dry particles of the moon’s soil) becomes sticky as it absorbs solar energy and gets charged. On attaining the electric charge, it can clog up systems, eat through layers of spacesuit material, and even damage electronics. To combat this hazard, Ron Creel, a thermal control engineer would prove his genius. Radiators were shielded by dust covers, and fenders were employed to prevent the wheels from carrying too much dust. The LRV also made use of brushes to remove extra dust.

Creel further contributed to “barbeque mode” in which the spacecraft roasted much like a rotisserie to regulate heat and prevent electronics from freezing or overheating, and was awarded a Silver Snoopy for his efforts. 

The LRV was instrumental in bringing back precious moon rock samples, including the famous Seat Belt Rock. It is perhaps fitting for it to remain a short distance from the lunar module, serving as a reminder of its great mission and the efforts of the men behind it.