Spaceflight Insider

Students create lunar rover replica

Apollo 16 lunar rover with commander John Young. NASA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Apollo 16 Commander John Young at the controls of the mission’s lunar rover. Photo Credit: Charlie Duke / NASA

A full-size, drivable replica of the Apollo Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) is coming to the Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio, on Thursday, May 5, 2016. The vehicle, a product of three years of work by students at Ohio Northern University’s (ONU) T.J. Smull College of Engineering, will be delivered by students from the university.

The Apollo 15 lunar rover in the Hadley Rille region of the Moon. Photo Credit: NASA

The Apollo 15 lunar rover in the Hadley Rille region of the Moon. Photo Credit: NASA

The battery-powered LRV was originally developed by Boeing for NASA’s Apollo Moon landing program. It was to be incorporated in the Lunar Module for the “J” missions. Unlike Apollo 11 (the “G” mission) or Apollo 12 through 14 (the “H” missions), the “J” missions carried extra batteries and oxygen, more lunar surface experiments, and, of course, the rover.

Apollo 15 was the first “J” mission. On July 30, 1971, Commander Dave Scott and Lunar Module Pilot James Irwin unfolded and assembled their rover out of the Modular Equipment Stowage Assembly (MESA) of the lunar module Falcon. Scott became the first human being to drive a car on the Moon. For three days, Scott and Irwin explored the Hadley Rille-Appenine region of the Moon, driving to remote sites and collecting the oldest rock yet discovered.

Apollo 16 took a similar rover to the Moon in April 1972, when Commander John Young and Lunar Module Pilot Charlie Duke explored the Cayley Plains.

The final rover taken to the Moon was on Apollo 17 in December 1972. Commander Gene Cernan drove the rover while Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt, the first and only scientist to go to the Moon, collected rock samples from the Taurus-Littrow region.

Each of the rovers taken to the Moon was equipped with a high-gain antenna. Because of that, after landing, the astronauts removed the television camera on the lunar module and attached it to the rover. This enabled real-time television coverage of every phase of each mission. Additionally, it brought color television of the Moon’s most spectacular regions into America’s living rooms. Unfortunately, by then, the Moon landings were receiving very little television coverage, and much of that footage has never been seen—except by space enthusiasts.

Like the original lunar rover, the Museum’s rover can seat two and travel up to ten miles an hour. It includes duplicates of the original rover’s high-gain antenna and tool storage.

The lunar rover replica. Photo Credit: Ohio Northern University

The ONU lunar rover replica. Photo Credit: Ohio Northern University

The duplicate rover was built by 23 students at ONU who spent more than 3,000 documented hours on the project for six consecutive semesters. The students who worked on the project came from a variety of majors—mechanical, electrical, computer, and civil engineering, as well as the college’s new engineering education major.

The total cost of the reproduction was approximately $19,000. The materials and funds were provided by ONU’s Archer Memorial Fund, the Ohio Space Grant Consortium, and Polaris Industries.

The duplicate is not identical to the rovers now sitting on the surface of the Moon. It had to function in Earth’s gravity, which meant the wire mesh tires had to be discarded. Team members worked with the university’s student project manager in order to deal with the real-life problems of adapting a vehicle intended for use on the Moon to being drivable on Earth. These included physics, financial considerations, and authenticity.

“I hope the people who encounter the rover are able to experience exactly what the astronauts felt,” said Eric Dicke, an ONU senior mechanical engineering major from New Bremen, Ohio. “We tried to make it aesthetically as close to the actual rover as we possibly could.”

Chris Burton, executive director of the Armstrong Air & Space Museum, said it was amazing that they will now have a realistic working vehicle for outreach events.

“I don’t know how many other museums can drive their own lunar rovers,” Burton said. “Hopefully, this rover will inspire the next generation of engineers and astronauts to pursue their dreams in science, technology, engineering, and math.”

Alec Flemming, an ONU senior mechanical engineering major from Powell, Ohio, said he hopes young children, who see a project like the replica lunar rover, will be inspired in some way.

“If they’re interested in math or science, they might say, ‘This is really cool. Maybe I could do this some day,’” Flemming said.


Collin R. Skocik has been captivated by space flight since the maiden flight of space shuttle Columbia in April of 1981. He frequently attends events hosted by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, and has met many astronauts in his experiences at Kennedy Space Center. He is a prolific author of science fiction as well as science and space-related articles. In addition to the Voyage Into the Unknown series, he has also written the short story collection The Future Lives!, the science fiction novel Dreams of the Stars, and the disaster novel The Sunburst Fire. His first print sale was Asteroid Eternia in Encounters magazine. When he is not writing, he provides closed-captioning for the hearing impaired. He lives in Atlantic Beach, Florida.

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