A guide to the Lunar Rover, NASA's moon car.

NASA's Lunar Rover, a car for astronauts to drive on the moon!

NASA's Lunar Rover
The lunar rover from Apollo 15

Introducing the Lunar Rover

In the late 1960's NASA began a series of missions to the moon. On the first three missions the astronauts explored on foot only a few hundred metres around their spacecraft, but on the last three missions, they had use of a small electric car, that allowed them to see and do much more on their short visits.

Boeing, the company famous for building aircraft like the 747 Jumbo Jet, built the Lunar rover for NASA. The Lunar Rover, or LRV for short was developed in only 17 months, but worked almost perfectly on all three missions.

The LRV was an electric vehicle which had a top speed of 8mph, and allowed the astronauts to visit sites almost five miles away from their landing, and to sample rocks from a much wider area to help scientists get a better understanding of the moon's surface. Between them, the three LRV's used on the moon travelled more than 55 miles, and all of them were left on the moon at the end of their missions.

Stowing the Rover in the Lunar Module

Getting a car to the moon

The LRV had to be transported to the moon in the bottom part of the Lunar Rover spacecraft. Incredibly it was designed to fold in half so it would fit!

The car was hinged in three places and the four wheels folded nearly flat so that the whole vehicle occupied only 0.85 m3, not much bigger than a washing machine. You can see in this picture scientists testing how the LRV would fit into the side of the Lunar Module.

The astronauts had to lower the LRV down using ropes and pulleys, and was cleverly designed so it mostly unfolded itself as it was lowered. The seats were then lifted up and a camera set up that NASA could control remotely from the Earth, allowing them to watch the Astronauts as they explored the moon's surface in the LRV.

The Lunar Rover dashboard

Driving on the moon

The controls were very simple; a T-shaped hand controller between the seats controlled the motors that made the car move, steer and brake. Pushing the stick forward drove the LRV forward, left and right turned the car and pulling back put on the brakes. The big grey switch puts the LRV into reverse.

Although the LRV worked well on the moon, Apollo 17's LRV was damaged, and part of the wheel fender was broken off. The astronauts had to improvise a repair using a map to prevent the wheel kicking up dust all over them!

The LRV did not need chunky rubber tyres, as the LRV weighed only 210kg, and much less on the moon. The tyres were made of a lightweight mesh, suitable for driving on dusty terrain.

Lunar repairs!
Lunar Rover of the future

Exploring the moon in the future

NASA plans to go back to the moon in the year 2020. This time they aim to explore thousands of miles of the surface, staying for months at a time.

Right now NASA is working on new ideas for moon cars, including this one, in which astronauts can live and work for up to two weeks! They will be able to sleep in the cab, and there is a separate compartment where they can put on their space suits to go exploring on foot.

This concept vehicle is designed to require almost no maintenance and to be tough enough to be used for ten years. An off-road race truck team is helping develop this fantastic 12 wheeled electric vehicle.

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