Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Driving on the moon: the 40-year legacy of NASA's first lunar car

When NASA's Apollo 15 astronauts David Scott and James Irwin touched down on the moon 40 years ago, they had an extra special tool packed away on their lunar lander: a dune buggy-size rover that enabled them to become the first humans to drive on the surface of a world beyond Earth.
Rover technology has made great strides since Scott and Irwin landed on the moon on July 30, 1971, but the lessons learned from NASA's first Lunar Roving Vehicles (LRVs) are still applicable today. While technology has evolved since the Apollo era, NASA's first rovers are influencing manned and robotic vehicles for exploration on Mars and beyond.

The "LRV on Apollo fulfilled a very important need, which was to be able to cover large traverses, carry more samples, and get more scientific exploration done," Mike Neufeld, a curator in the space history division at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. told SPACE.com. "It was a really important part of why Apollo 15, 16 and 17 were so much more scientifically advanced and productive."

Apollo 15 was the fourth mission to land men on the moon, and it was the first of three missions to use the LRVs. The rover had a mass of about 460 pounds (208 kilograms) and was designed to fold up so it could fit inside a compartment of the Lunar Module.

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