Across the Airless Wilds

The Lunar Rover and the Triumph of the Final Moon Landings

Earl Swift 2021 629.454 SWI Beaverton Library

A very well written and organized book, that changed my mind about the importance of the Apollo program lunar rover.

The book is organized as 66 short chapters. Rather than numbered footnotes, the 46 page NOTES section is arranged as short essays with frequent references to websites and other worthwhile books. This isn't "scholarly", but vastly more helpful for a reader seeking details. "The notes are meant to be read", and well worth it. More than half a century after the events, few of the participants are still alive, but the author interviewed most of them.

I read the book from the public library. I am still downsizing my own library, but I will probably purchase my own used copy of "Across" when I need to refer to it again.

The rover was somewhat of an afterthought. Though some early concepts for the Moon lander were mobile, the bare skeleton lunar module designed for the first lunar landing was just enough for a land, plant a flag, and leave. The Apollo 11 traverse map covers an area not much larger than my 0.27 hectare suburban lot.

Having bested the Soviets, and landed before the decade was out, Apollo's science goals were not important to most politicians and taxpayers. So, some of the hardware in the pipeline was launched to the Moon, some of NASA's remaining capability was shifted to the Space Shuttle, but the Apollo 18/19/20 missions were cancelled, their hardware scrapped. The funds for those missions were diverted by Nixon and the Congress to the pointless Vietnam war.

The lunar rover request for proposals (RFP) was issued in July 1969, contemperaneous with Apollo 11. The planned budget was 17 million dollars, which doubled during development by the General Motors and Boeing teams. The Apollo program cost $28B, resulting in six landings, or $4.7B per landing. Apollo 11, 12, and 14 were on foot, with the 12 and [ | 14 ]] missions limited to nearby (and easily misidentified) objectives, The scientific productivity of Apollo 15, 16, and 17 was vastly greater due to the rover, which added less than a 0.12% increment to the Apollo program cost; the wrangling over less than $20M of budget overrun (for an unprecedented new invention) probably cost ten times as much for the lost opportunities, and time wasted on the Moon dealing with flaws (like the broken fenders, where an extra couple of kilograms could have freed many hours of astronaut exploration time).

The astronauts also spent too much time getting lost. I can imagine a "Loran"-style distance-and-range navigation system, broadcast from a rotating transmitter on the lunar module, would have helped the on-foot astronauts know where they were, and in particular help the Apollo 14 astronauts locate better ejecta samples from Cone Crater.

Notes from the Notes

LunarRover (last edited 2022-03-01 03:32:44 by KeithLofstrom)