Book launch: How NASA chose the first Lunar Rover to slide around the moon
The concept of space travel was so new to us that when President Kennedy delivered his famous lunar speech, even the best scientists at NASA were not entirely sure that we could actually land on the moon. Some thought that any craft built there would sink into the regolith of the moon like a massive, airless swamp! In his last book, Among the Airless Beasts: Moon Rover and Last Moon Landing Victory, journalist and former Fulbright companion Earl Swift, explores the missions of Apollo 15, 16 and 17, which we often overlook on our last trips to the lunar surface (at least until the Artemis project is realized). In the fragment below, Swift takes the reader on a JPL hyper-rigid, tread-breaking Moon test course and a battle for the rover advantage between GM and Bendix there.
From the book AGAINST AIRLESS WILDLIFES: Moon Rover and Last Moon Locations Break By Earl Swift. Copyright © 2021 by Earl Swift. A series of books from William Morrow / HarperCollins Publishers from Private Home. Reprinted with permission.
From 1962 to 1963, both GM and Bendix Surveyor followed. Of course, summer came, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory set out its requirements for a hundred-pound, remote-controlled rover that the descenders wanted to hide on board. The vehicle will explore a distance of one mile from the Surveyors, and the drivers on Earth drove it with television eyes. The lab has warned that companies planning to offer Phase 1 design work, which is the normal first phase of any new hardware program, are expected to present engineering models of the concepts. Proposals were to be made in seven weeks.
Cleaned the amateurs in a short time. In October, the two remaining companies – GM and Bendix – began work on a contract basis. GM was ready with a six-wheel design. His Surveyor Bear Watch vehicle was six feet long on eighteen-inch wheels and weighed ninety pounds – half the size and half the weight of a re-test bed, and had a sure foot that fell less than a jaw. In a lunarium of rocks, craters, and slopes outside Pavlics’ Santa Barbara lab, he climbed forty-five degrees, jumped into twenty-inch cracks, and leaned up thirty-inch stairs.
Becker and Pavlics had been working on the idea for more than three years. The main advances this time: the wheels. Again, they were made of wire, but they touched a wide mesha that looked like a chain link fence, and they were in the form of a fat donkey. Like the team’s previous wire wheels, they sat down when they hit an obstacle and mastered some of the rounds of international travel. Worked with or without a one-piece cover.
“We had a great program to try to find a wire material that would survive the vacuum environment on the moon,” John Calandro recalled. “Frank developed a test device that created the vacuum environment we needed.”
When fully ready for a mission, the rover would be an electronic miracle with subsystems equipped by AC Electronics, a GM division at RCA Astro-Electronics and Milwaukee: stereo TV viewing device, advanced navigation and control, and silver-zinc batteries filled with solar panels . But part of Santa Barbara’s job, the car itself, was to do more with less money. Designer Norman J. James would recall that the device was always “evaluated to see if something simpler could do the same thing.” “‘The rest is never broken’ was a frequently repeated sentence.”
Bendix took a radically different approach. The SLRV was a quadrangular, two-part, articulated robot, with curved corners at the corners, ending with a combination of small caterpillar runways with shock-absorbing legs. The pieces were set up independently to follow the uneven ground. The operators controlled the roads on one side or the other with commands to slow down, accelerate, or reverse, and did a pivot reversal that connected the two halves. On the moon, a radioisotope heat generator – a small nuclear device – will be hung from the back and amplified fluffily with scientific instruments and antennas. It weighed a hundred pounds.
The shoulder-to-shoulder Bendix with the GM model looked bulky and awkward, and these small pieces didn’t fit very well with Pavlics’ almost spherical wire wheels. But Bendix was a bull in his design until May 1964, when the U.S. Geological Survey took two models of a panel from Caltech and NASA to a volcanic site north of Flagstaff, Arizona, and turned them into a void on a solid Bonito. Lava flow. Years later, geologist Jack McCauley recalled: “We really had a small part that could go into pretty rough things.” “GM was perfect. Moved from point A to point B without any failure or transformation.
“Poor Bendix had tank-like marks made of something like a kind of rubber,” McCauley said. “The vehicle began to grind teeth again. In fact, when he finished half of the course, there was no trace left. So the GM thing obviously received our blessing. ”
General Motors won a decisive victory. Unfortunately, it didn’t add up to a rover on the Moon. The Rover Boys, as this test panel is known, was more impressed than the six-wheeled car, but its capabilities did not meet the requirements of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory: “walk and take pictures every ten days.” “We also need to use a penetrometer to see what the strength of a month’s soil is and to do it in a predetermined way.” “Basically, just make a network request.” Bendix had produced very few rovers for the mission; GM had produced a lot. The Rover Boys reluctantly stated that no rover met the specified needs of the Surveyor program, and that this was one of the reasons why NASA soon cleaned up the rover component.
By then, JPL’s Ranger program had finally given NASA its first look at the moon. By design, these were a brief glance: Ranger probes crashed into the Moon’s surface while taking high-resolution images until the moment of impact. This program, conceived in 1959, sometimes seemed like another exercise in frustration. After Rangers 1 and 2 made two development test flights in 1961, the Rangers, all busted, came in between 3 and 6. The program was not until July 1964 and Ranger 7, literally hit the payoff. As the spacecraft landed on the moon, the cameras kicked and took and transmitted images of the approaching surface for about seventeen minutes – a total of 4,316 images, some with a resolution one hundred times higher than the best. Place. The images did not quell the fears inspired by Thomas Gold’s writings and lectures, but found that Maria was smooth enough to land.
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