The Ahead-Of-Its-Time Machine

August 20, 2010

The first car in outer space makes its first car show appearance here on Earth.

Who would ever think to include a moon vehicle on a list of the world’s most innovative and important classic cars? Costing 38 million dollars to produce in 1971, the Apollo Lunar Roving Vehicle is the most expensive car ever made. It’s definitely old enough to be considered a classic and—from an industry prospective—was loaded with technological firsts.

But very few earth-bound automotive enthusiasts have ever seen what an actual LRV looks like up close until this month in Traverse City, Michigan.

An original LRV prototype, on loan from the Air Zoo museum of Kalamazoo, was one of the highlights at this year’s Hagerty Family Car Show, an annual Fourth of July weekend event sponsored by Hagerty Insurance on behalf of the National Cherry Festival. Learn more about the Lunar Rover “We estimate that about five thousand visitors took in the display,” said Bob DeKorne, Hagerty’s Client Resource Manager and the man who helped organize the event. “That’s more people than have come through to see any of the other significant cars we’ve had headlining the show in years past. Since many of the visitors were ‘non-car people’ and families who went on to see the other exhibits in the show, it was a good promotion for NASA and the collector vehicle hobby in general.”

Three of the four original LRVs produced—one each for the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 space missions—are still sitting on the moon where the astronauts last parked them. The last is on permanent display at the Smithsonian Air & Space museum.
Conceived and developed in 17 months with virtually no ceiling on how much the creators were allowed to spend, the Apollo Lunar Roving Vehicle was loaded with automotive firsts.

This totally electric vehicle featured: a three- part, aluminum alloy tube chassie that could be folded up and stored; four- wheel independent steering; all-wheel drive; Velcro seat belts; and an on-board directional navigation system.

Each LRV also featured high traction, “wire” wheels manufactured by General Motors Defense Laboratories. Instead of steel-belted rubber, each wheel consisted of a spun aluminum hub made of zinc coated, woven, steel strands—like tightly wound piano wire—attached to the rims.

Seating two astronauts and their gear, the LRV weighed less than 450 pounds but was capable of hauling a payload of over 1,000 pounds on the moon’s surface. Each rover had a top speed of about 8 mph, although “last man on the moon” Gene Cernan recorded a maximum speed of 11.2 mph during his Apollo 17 mission, giving him the (unofficial) lunar land speed record.

PHOTO: Astronaut Eugene A. Cernan, Apollo 17 mission commander, makes a short checkout of the Lunar Roving Vehicle during the early part of the first Apollo 17 extravehicular activity.


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