NASA 1972 Moon Buggy Review: Fun, Fun, Fun

The frenetic tempo of substances releases means it’s inevitable that WIRED can’t get to all of them in a well timed trend. But if they’re vital, relaxation assured, we’ll catch up finally. Yes, some might take a little bit longer to materialize than others, nevertheless, at 50 years late, this assessment is, I admit, pushing loyal readers’ persistence. Yet, as that is an appraisal of such an iconic EV, none apart from NASA’s Lunar Roving Vehicle, or LRV (extra popularly referred to as the moon buggy), I hope you’ll forgive the tardiness. 

The astronomical delay is solely on account of the truth that Charles Duke, considered one of solely six people ever to journey within the LRV on the lunar floor, is an understandably onerous man to pin down. WIRED has lastly lucky sufficient to meet up with the 86-year-old former astronaut and Lunar Module pilot to get a full debrief on how this distinctive electrical journey carried out on the Apollo 16 mission in April 1972.

Astronaut Charles Duke Jr, Apollo 16 lunar module pilot, salutes the US flag on the Descartes touchdown website in the course of the mission’s first extravehicular exercise on the moon, on April 21, 1972.

Photograph: NASA/Underwood Archives/Getty Images

Built by Boeing and General Motors for the final three missions of the Apollo program, the moon buggy is fantastically light-weight in comparison with trendy electrical automobiles, clocking in at simply 460 kilos (210 kg) Earth weight (this interprets to 77 kilos, or 35 kg, as soon as on the moon). It can carry a max payload of 1,080 kilos (490 kg), together with two astronauts, tools, and lunar samples.

Of course, today we’re used to trendy electric cars delivering spectacular high speeds, however again within the Nineteen Seventies the lunar buggy was designed to max out at simply 8 mph traversing the moon’s rugged floor. But it did obtain a heady 11.2 mph on its final mission, Apollo 17, on the finish of 1972. 

Full vary from the 2 36-volt silver-zinc potassium hydroxide non-rechargeable batteries with a cost capability of 121 amp hours every (a complete of 242 Ah) is simply 57 miles (92 km). That’s the identical as driving from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to the town of San Jose. Once these batteries are flat, although, the buggy turns into ineffective. 

Also, at a last price of $38 million for the 4 lunar rovers that have been constructed for Apollo missions 15, 16, and 17 (the extra rover was used for spare components), the buggy’s whole invoice involves a thumping $262.8 million in today’s money. This makes the LRV the definitive wallet-shattering single-use buy, car or in any other case. 

Some context could be helpful right here. For the identical cash you can deal with your self to six,655 Tesla Model 3s and nonetheless have spare change. Or you can you go wild with 1,051 Founders Series Tesla Roadsters (in the event that they ever materialize) similar to Elon Musk’s personal one he shot into area. And, what’s extra, they’d be rechargeable. 

But here is the factor: neither of those electrical automobiles, nor any others you will discover on the freeway, are able to ferrying two astronauts, scientific tools, and lunar soil and rock samples for round 78 hours straight some 238,900 miles from Earth in close to vacuum at one-sixth of our gravity. The moon buggy can. And let’s keep in mind it went from a clean sheet of paper to NASA supply in simply 17 and a half months whereas the area fits alone took 60 months. So let’s not quibble over just a few million.


Far from the land of easy tarmac, NASA knew the moon buggy must take care of terrain coated with useless volcanoes, impression craters, and lava flows. Indeed, so uneven is the moon’s floor, NASA cautioned its Apollo astronauts to not go above 10 mph within the buggy, in any other case it estimated they’d be off the bottom 35 % of the time. So the EV needed to be maneuverable within the excessive to make sure the security of its occupants.

Lunar Module Pilot James B. Irwin subsequent to the Lunar Roving Vehicle on the moon, throughout a interval of extravehicular exercise on NASA’s Apollo 15 lunar touchdown mission, 1971.

Photograph: Space Frontiers/Getty Images

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