50 years later: A look back at NASA’s incredible first Lunar Rover

50 years ago this week, the Apollo 15 spacecraft launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Apollo 15 mission is significant for numerous reasons. It was the ninth crewed Apollo mission, the fourth to land on the Moon, and perhaps most importantly, the first to use the lunar roving vehicle (LRV). While rovers seem commonplace today, it was a stunning achievement for NASA in 1971. To celebrate Apollo’s first LRV, we wanted to share a collection of images highlighting the development, deployment and use of NASA’s famous ‘moon buggy.’

The LRV was manufactured by Boeing and General Motors and featured four 0.25-horsepower series-wound DC motors in its drivetrain. While electric vehicles are a regular sight these days, the rover was ahead of its time. The vehicle, powered by a pair of silver-oxide batteries, had a 92km (57 mi) range. The moon buggy had a curb weight of 210kg (460 lbs) on Earth but weighed only 34kg (76 lbs) on the lunar surface.

Despite its stated top speed of 13 km/h (8 mph), on its final mission, Apollo 17, the rover topped out at a blistering 18 km/h (11.2 mph). The vehicle could carry a payload of 490 kg (1,080 lbs), including a pair of astronauts, various equipment and lunar samples to return to Earth. There were three LRVs taken to the Moon, where they all currently reside.

On Apollo 15, the LRV was driven by commander David Scott and pilot James Irwin. The third astronaut, command module pilot Alfred Worden, remained in orbit around the Moon. Scott and Irwin drove about 28km (17 mi) during the mission before parking the LRV a short distance from the lunar module. The LRV includes a plaque, which reads ‘Man’s First Wheels on the Moon, Delivered by Falcon, July 30, 1971.’

50 years later: A look back at NASA’s incredible first Lunar Rover

The first-ever lunar rover was parked by commander David Scott on August 3, 1971 following the completion of the Apollo 15 mission’s time on the Moon. The LRV remains here today, with a small plaque commemorating the rover’s contribution to the mission.

50 years later: A look back at NASA’s incredible first Lunar Rover

Astronauts Jack Lousma (driving) and Gerald Carr test a prototype of the LRV in California on August 13, 1970.

50 years later: A look back at NASA’s incredible first Lunar Rover

Eventual lunar drivers James Irwin and David Scott train in the Mojave Desert a few months before Apollo 15, on April 29, 1971.

50 years later: A look back at NASA’s incredible first Lunar Rover

James Irwin standing on the Moon behind the rover, parked beside the lunar module, ‘Falcon.’

50 years later: A look back at NASA’s incredible first Lunar Rover

James Irwin works beside the LRV at the Hadley-Apennine landing site on July 31, 1971.

50 years later: A look back at NASA’s incredible first Lunar Rover

James Irwin salutes the camera while standing beside the United States flag at Apollo 15’s landing site on the lunar surface. You can see the LRV Irwin’s left and Hadley Delta in the background. Hadley Delta rises about 4km (13,124′) above the landing site.

50 years later: A look back at NASA’s incredible first Lunar Rover

Astronauts David Scott and James Irwin explain the lunar rover to reporters at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on May 6, 1971.

50 years later: A look back at NASA’s incredible first Lunar Rover

Composite panoramic image of David Scott working at the LRV near Hadley Rile during the rover’s first lunar excursion.

50 years later: A look back at NASA’s incredible first Lunar Rover

David Scott aims the LRV’s high gain antenna toward Earth to allow for television transmission.

50 years later: A look back at NASA’s incredible first Lunar Rover

This is the final image captured from the lunar surface during Apollo 15. You can see the LRV in the distance through Falcon’s struts.

50 years later: A look back at NASA’s incredible first Lunar Rover

Apollo 15’s view of Earth following its launch on July 26, 1971. At this point, the spacecraft – and the folded LRV onboard – was about 25,000-30,000 nautical miles from Earth.

Source: Photography – DPReview

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