Car insurance: driving on the moon

Car Insurance: Driving on the Moon

The Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) was developed to ease the burden on astronauts encased in their bulky suits. It was deployed in three of the latter Apollo missions (Apollo 15, 16 & 17). With a top speed of barely 10mph and a total range of around 70 miles it sounds underwhelming. However the achievement of housing a folding car in a tiny landing craft is mammoth.

The LRV was an electrically powered vehicle and needed to be specially developed for lunar deployment. Development began in 1969 under the stewardship of the Hungarian physicist Ferenc Pavlics at the General Motors Research Institute in Santa Barbara. It took a lot of design work to ensure that those wheels never dug themselves irretrievably into the dusty surface of the moon. Three LRVs were left behind on the Moon, surely the loneliest car park in the solar system.

The LRV was 3.1 metres long and had a wheelbase of 2.3 metres. It was made mainly out of aluminium and weighed a mere 210kg. It took a maximum load of 490 kg of which the greater part (353 kg) was taken up by the astronauts themselves and their personal kit. Communications gear added a further 45.4 kg; miscellaneous scientific equipment 54.5 kg and rock samples 27.2 kg. Even fully loaded, the LRV maintained good clearance (36 cm).

The astronaut steered the LRV with a joystick and navigated with the aid of a gyroscope. This calculated the position in relation to the landing module. The cameras that gave us so much amazing colour footage of the moon were attached to the front of the vehicle.

Folded up, the LRV was quite manageable (0.9 x 1.5 x 1.7m). It was transported beneath the landing capsule and took a mere 20 minutes to assemble, less than many an obstinate deckchair. In the power stakes, the LRV was no match for a milk float. It was powered entirely by a 36 volt battery. Lunatic drivers (in the true sense of the word) are exempt from car insurance but with such a limited power unit would hope that motor insurance would not amount to much by the time we’ve built our first cities and motorways on the moon.

27.3.2008

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