The Loony Lunar Buggies!
This year celebrates the 35th anniversary of manned flight to the moon so this Amazing Invention is all about those lovable lunar buggies!
In 1969, when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon with Apollo 11, he didn’t have a lunar buggy. It wasn’t until July 1971 and the Apollo 15 mission that the first Lunar Roving Vehicle (or LRV) rolled onto the moon.
Fitting the LRV in the Lunar Landing Module
The size and weight of the vehicle was of great importance to the engineers as the buggy had to take up as little space as possible in the Landing Module. The LRV was designed to fold up into three sections and then the wheels would pivot up against it which would mean in would only occupy 30 cubic feet in the landing module – so back on earth it would have easily fitted in the back of a land rover! When fully unfolded on the moon the buggy was much more spacious – 3 metres long and 1.8 metres wide – more than enough room to two astronauts and all their equipment.
Apollo 11 Lunar Buggy Exhibit at the Air and Space Museum
Coping with the Moon’s Tough Terrain
The LRV was powered by an electric motor in each wheel which ran to two large batteries. This allowed a rather slow top speed of 8 mph.
However coupled with the light weight wheel made of wire mesh and titanium tread it could climb slopes of up to 25º and deal with the very rough terrain of the moon. The materials used to construct the LRV also had to be tough enough to withstand the Moon’s temperature range: 120ºC to -180ºC!
Still up there!
As it ran on batteries, the LRV only had a life span of 72 hours and the Astronauts were not allowed out of a set range from the lunar module so they could walk back if the LRV broke down. But in 1971, it was only used 3 hours! It was not practical to brink the LRV’s back to earth so once the astronauts were done they were left the LRV on the moon and built a new LRV for the next lunar mission. It cost NASA $38 million to build 4 LRVs for Apollo missions 15, 16 and 17 and one for spare!