The hectic pace of gear releases means that it is inevitable that WIRED can not get to all of them in time. But if they are important, then make sure we catch up eventually. Yes, some may take a little longer to realize than others, however, at 50 years late, this review is, I admit, pushing the patience of loyal readers. But since this is an assessment of such an iconic EV, none other than NASA’s Lunar Roving Vehicle or LRV (more popularly known as the lunar vehicle), I hope you will forgive the delay.
The astronomical delay is simply due to the fact that Charles Duke, one of only six people who have ever ridden in the LRV on the surface of the moon, is an understandably difficult man to determine. WIRED has finally been fortunate enough to catch up with the 86-year-old former astronaut and Lunar Module pilot to get a complete overview of how this unique electric trip performed on the Apollo 16 mission in April 1972.
Built by Boeing and General Motors for the last three missions of the Apollo program lunar chariot is amazingly light compared to modern electric vehicles and weighs only 460 pounds (210 kg) Earth’s weight (this equates to 77 pounds, or 35 kg, once on the moon). It can carry a maximum payload of 1,080 pounds (490 kg), including two astronauts, equipment and moon samples.
Of course, these days we are used to modern electric cars delivering impressive top speeds, but back in the 1970s, the moon buggy was designed to max out at just 8 km / h and cross the lunar robust surface. But it achieved an intoxicating 11.2 km / h on its last mission, Apollo 17, at the end of 1972.
Full range from the two 36-volt non-rechargeable silver-zinc-potassium hydroxide batteries with a charging capacity of 121 amp-hours each (a total of 242 Ah) is only 92 km. It’s the same as driving from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to the city of San Jose. But when these batteries are flat, the buggy becomes useless.
At a final price of $ 38 million for the four-moon rovers built for Apollo mission 15, 16 and 17 (the extra rover was used for spare parts), the buggy’s total bill comes up to a paltry $ 262.8 million in today’s money. This makes the LRV the definitive one-time purchase that shatters the purse, whether it is vehicle or otherwise.
Some context would be helpful here. For the same money, you can treat yourself to 6,655 Tesla Model 3s and still have spare money. Or you could go crazy with 1,051 Founders Series Tesla Roadsters (if they ever turn into anything) just like Elon Musk’s personal he shot out into space. And what’s more, they would be rechargeable.
But here’s the thing: Neither of these electric cars, nor any others you find on the highway, are capable of carrying two astronauts, scientific equipment, and the moon’s soil and rock samples for about 78 hours in a row about 238,900 miles from Earth in near vacuum at one-sixth of our gravity. The moon buggy can. And let’s remember that it went from a blank sheet of paper to NASA delivery in just 17 and a half months, while the spacesuits alone took 60 months. So let’s not quarrel over a few million.
Far from the land with slippery asphalt, NASA knew that the moon buggy would have to deal with terrain covered by dead volcanoes, impact craters and lava flows. In fact, as uneven is the moon’s surface, NASA warned its Apollo astronauts not to drive above 10 mph in the buggy, otherwise it estimated they would be off the ground 35 percent of the time. So the EV should be maneuverable to the extreme to ensure the safety of its passengers.