Buggy

Daddy’s supposed to be able to answer any question about space ships. But how on Earth did the damn buggy get to the Moon?

Ever since our trip to the Ontario Science Centre the other day, my kids have been way into the Saturn V rocket and the Apollo missions. They’re stil a little young to remember all the details of course, but for the last few nights they’ve opted to forgo storytime in exchange for a few minutes of whatever YouTube videos the old man could drum up on the subject.

Between real clips from the missions, handy 3D simulations, and some choice scenes from the movie Apollo 13 and the miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, I’ve been able to paint them a pretty comprehensive picture of how the whole thing went down. The best moment came when my five year old was told about Neil Armstrong piloting the Eagle softly down to the lunar surface, and how nobody had ever done so before. He followed with a decidedly impressed sounding “Whoa”.

But all of this got me wondering about something, and soon it began to eat at me. While during the initial missions, the Lunar Modules (LM) carried nothing but a pair of astronauts down to the Moon, that did not remain the case. Apollos 15 through 17 also included the ‘Moon Buggy’, or Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) to be more precise. How did that happen?

I mean in any sort of flying exercise, weight is incredibly important, I’m sure doubly so when flying as precisely as needed in space. How could the Lunar Modules be able to perform properly in the moon’s gravity under two very different sets of conditions; one as initially designed for, and one with an entire automobile strapped to it’s side? 

Extract

And where exactly was it strapped? Every square inch of space was used in these vessels, and it’s not like the LRV could fit inside the LM. The whole thing also had to fit inside the cylinder of the Saturn V, so I don’t imagine there was a lot of extra space to be attaching it to the outside of the LM. The buggy couldn’t have fit below the body of the spacecraft because the LM had notoriously little clearance from the ground once landed. 

So where did they stow the danged thing? I mean, did they have to shoot it up there on some earlier, unmanned mission like they’ve discussed doing with potential Mars efforts?

Clearance

The answer isn’t very mysterious; in fact I’m quite sure it’ll reinforce the idea that I’m a big dummy. I only share it because if I had never thought about it before, some of you out there must be in the same boat. (Right?) Turns out the engineers just folded the LRV up into a side panel of the LM, and that was only difficult for me to imagine because I grossly underestimated the size of the Lunar Module!

I don’t know, I always thought of the LM as a really tiny little craft, and indeed compared to the girth of the Saturn V it was, but that’s because the Saturn V is the largest thing we’ve ever gotten to fly. (It’s as tall as St. Paul’s Cathedral in London) But when you look at the image below you get a sense of how large it was, and therefore how small a deal it would be to stow a buggy onboard.

Scale

I found the following write up in a few places online, but only Galaxywire had pictures, (above and below) so I’ll include their link below. I also found a handy transcript and audio file of the astronauts of Apollo 16 actually deploying the LRV, which you can check out later.

And of course, here’s a handy little animation. (I think it’s made for viewing with 3D glasses, thus the strange appearance)

Here goes:

The Lunar Rover was folded and stored in quad 1 of the Lunar Module with the underside of the chassis facing out.

Deploying the Rover:  One astronaut would climb the egress ladder on the LM and release the rover, which would then be slowly tilted out by the second astronaut on the ground through the use of reels and tapes.
Packing
As the rover was let down from the bay most of the deployment was automatic. The rear wheels folded out and locked in place and when they touched the ground the front of the rover could be unfolded, the wheels deployed, and the entire frame let down to the surface by pulleys.

The rover components locked into place upon opening. Cabling, pins, and tripods would then be removed and the seats and footrests raised.

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