This Day in History… July 31, 1971

Astronauts Take Lunar Rover for First Drive on the Moon 

U.S. 1435

On July 31, 1971, U.S. Astronauts David Scott and James Irwin became the first humans to drive on the Moon.

Though we’d traveled to the Moon in 1969, the astronauts couldn’t move around very fast, so were limited in how many samples they could collect. To make this easier, NASA began work on lunar rovers. They were developed in just 17 months and cost $38 million (for four rovers). The result was like something out of the future. Made out of a variety of lightweight alloys, the 463-pound rovers could carry up 1,080 pounds. They were folded so they could fit in the cargo bay and locked into place as they were removed and opened up. The rovers could reach of top speed of eight miles per hour.

Between July 31 and August 2, the Apollo 15 crew traveled 15.7 miles on the Moon’s surface (more than the 4.2 miles covered by all previous expeditions on foot). They also collected about 170 pounds of lunar material to bring back to Earth for examination.

While the mission was a success, it came under scrutiny. The astronauts had brought postage stamps in their space suits without permission, and planned to sell them when they returned to Earth.

Rovers were used again for the Apollo 16 and 17 missions, which covered another 40 miles of the Moon’s surface. For those interested in the inner workings of the rovers, an owner’s manual is available online.

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