Lunar Vehicle Testing At The Usgs

In December 1963, Shoemaker appointed John McCauley as co-investigator for the Surveyor Lunar Roving Vehicle (SLRV). This was a small robotic vehicle about one meter long and half-a-meter wide and weighing approximately 45 kg. NASA conceived this vehicle to be soft-landed on the lunar surface, and to then, as its name stated, survey the surrounding area, take stereoscopic images and beam them back to Earth, as well as performing other functions. NASA contracted with Bendix Corporation and General Motors (GM) to build prototypes, which would be tested by the USGS. In May 1964, McCauley and his team took the Bendix and GM vehicles out to the Bonita Lava Flows and Sunset Crater north of Flagstaff for testing. McCauley's group, dubbed ''The Rover Boys,'' included Ron Scott from Caltech, Noel Hiners (who would later become director of the Goddard Space Flight Center), Ray Batson and Roy Brereton. Supervising the test with McCauley was L.V. Divone of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The articulated, six-wheeled GM vehicle did quite well in traversing the rugged terrain, but the Bendix vehicle with its rubber tank-like treads performed poorly. However, the ability to traverse rugged terrain was just one capability the vehicle had to have. The SLRV also had to perform a given series of other functions at precise distances. McCauley and his team felt that the vehicles as they were configured would not effectively perform site certification. The team wrote a report to NASA stating as much, and after evaluating the report, the space agency cancelled the SLRV program.

NASA was looking much more seriously into manned lunar vehicles, as described in Chapter 1, and looked to the USGS to test them in Earth-surface conditions that simulated those on the Moon as closely as possible. The first of these vehicles to arrive in Flagstaff in April 1965 was the Lunar Mission Development Vehicle, built by General Motors' Defense Research Laboratories. It was identified on the side as the Mobile Geologic Laboratory, or MOLAB for short. The MOLAB acronym, however, also applied to several vehicles built by Grumman and Bendix. MOLAB was conceived while NASA believed that there would be two Saturn V launch vehicles to get men and machines to the Moon. This particular vehicle was designed to accommodate two astronauts in a pressurized environment with full accommodations and would permit extended traverses on the Moon lasting days at a time.

Don Elston was head of the Manned Lunar Exploration Division of the USGS Branch of Astrogeology, and he coordinated the field tests of this vehicle to establish feasibility studies of geologic equipment designed for use on the lunar surface (such

Moon Rover
Astronauts Charles Duke and John Young photographed at the Nevada Test Site with Explorer during March 1972. The vehicle is fitted with updated Crew Station control panel and T-handle vehicle controller. (USGS)

as the gamma ray spectrometer unit), and suited astronaut interface with MOLAB. The vehicle was almost three meters wide, three meters high and roughly five meters long. MOLAB had fuel, drinking water and provisions that could permit the two occupants to operate the vehicle for two weeks in the Arizona landscape. Its operating speed was 6 kph, but it could operate on flat terrain up to 33 kph. It could climb slopes as steep as 45 degrees and was stable traversing a 30-degree slope. GM's MOLAB was built at a cost of $600,000, a staggering sum for such a vehicle in 1965. It was used in tests for only two years before NASA cancelled the long-duration Apollo mission profiles in 1967. The vehicle was later transported to Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

By July 1965, the Branch of Astrogeology's Office of Manned Lunar Exploration Systems had appointed specialized project chiefs in various disciplines in support of Project Apollo. John M'Gonigle was Acting Project Chief of Apollo Geological Methods; Gordon Swann was Project Chief of Apollo Extension Systems Methods; Joseph O'Connor was Project Chief of Advanced Systems Geological Methods; P.G. Ables was Project Chief of Scientific Task and Biogeological Investigations; E.C. Phillippi and Henry Holt were Project Chiefs of Lunar Field Imaging Systems; and Rutledge "Putty" Mills was Project Chief of Lunar Vehicle Systems. Mills had come to the Branch of Astrogeology courtesy of GM's Defense Research Laboratories in Santa Barbara, and came to Flagstaff originally to watch over and maintain GM's

MOLAB, and to assist in the vehicle's various field tests. It didn't take Shoemaker and others in Flagstaff long to realize that Mills would be an asset to the Branch of Astrogeology and he eventually accepted the offer to work there.

The conventional wisdom at NASA during the mid-1960s was that Project Apollo would incorporate two Saturn V launch vehicles for each mission to the Moon. In this way, bigger and heavier lunar exploration vehicles could be used. Bendix proposed a Lunar Roving Vehicle that would be landed on the Moon prior to the crew arriving. This vehicle would have remote control capability if the crew had to land too far away from it. To test this concept, NASA asked the Branch of Astrogeology in Flagstaff to build a test vehicle for crew training and to test geophysical equipment, navigation and vehicle remote control. The construction of this purpose-built vehicle was supervised by Putty Mills with assistance from Bill Tinnin and Dick Wiser. It was given the name Explorer. It was a perfect example of form following function, built at the lowest possible cost. To have four-wheel drive capability, the drive train and V8 gasoline engine of a Jeep pickup were used. A custom steel tubing frame and suspension was built to house this drive train. To give the vehicle the necessary ground clearance and traction, the wheels and tires from a Cub Tractor were employed. The vehicle driver sat up front and steering was controlled by a single servo-actuated joystick to the right of the driver, but Explorer could also be controlled with a TV camera vision system that could be viewed

Flying Jeep Rotabuggy

The Geologic Rover, called Grover, was a low-cost yet highly effective training vehicle used in USGS astronaut mission EVA planning and training for the J-missions of Apollo 15, 16 and 17. Note the integrated Personal Life support System (PLSS) backpacks, which permitted training by the astronauts in shirtsleeves. (USGS)

The Geologic Rover, called Grover, was a low-cost yet highly effective training vehicle used in USGS astronaut mission EVA planning and training for the J-missions of Apollo 15, 16 and 17. Note the integrated Personal Life support System (PLSS) backpacks, which permitted training by the astronauts in shirtsleeves. (USGS)

remotely. It had a navigation system that could plot its direction and a gyro compass from a surplus military aircraft. Built in 1967, Explorer was not only used for varied tests by the Branch of Astrogeology during the rest of the decade, it was also used by the crews of Apollo 16 and 17 prior to their missions.

The Apollo crews continued to participate in geologic field training by the Branch of Astrogeology, in addition to the other mission training they had to undergo. During 1965, the astronauts had trained at the Nevada Test Site, as well as Hawaii, Alaska, Iceland, Zuni Salt Lake in New Mexico and the Pinacate Volcanic Field in Mexico. Many of the geologic sites selected by the USGS were visited several times by rotating teams of Apollo astronauts during the remainder of the decade. In 1969, assigned crews and their backups for Apollo 11 through Apollo 14 began their own specialized geologic field training. In May 1970, the Apollo 15 prime crew of David Scott and Jim Irwin and backup crew of Richard Gordon and Jack Schmitt began mission-specific geologic field training. Schmitt had indeed been selected as one of the six scientist-astronauts to train for Apollo missions, and his selection is covered in Chapter 5. The Apollo 15 crews trained in the Flagstaff crater field at Cinder Lake, as well as in Alberta, Canada, the San Juan Mountains in Colorado, Buell Park in Arizona and in Northern Minnesota. In November 1970, the Apollo 15 crew began training with a new vehicle built by the Branch of Astrogeology. Its official name was the Geologic Rover, but it was nicknamed Grover for short.

A scratch-built trainer

In April 1970, Putty Mills received a phone call from Donald Beattie, NASA's program manager of Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments. Beattie explained that the LRV 1-G Trainer would not be completed in time for Apollo 15 mission training and planning that was set to start in roughly ninety days. He wanted to know if the Branch of Astrogeology could construct a reasonably accurate trainer for the astronauts to use. Mills assured Beattie that if he could get drawings of the LRV, he could build a trainer in time for Dave Scott and Jim Irwin to begin their mission training. Relieved, Beattie directed Mills to fly to Huntsville, where he would be briefed on the LRV and given full cooperation by Boeing. Once in Huntsville, Mills was given complete blueprints of the LRV and took many Polaroid photographs of the various subsystems under design development. Mills flew back to Flagstaff and pulled together the team that would build Grover. He called in Bill Tinnin and Dick Wiser, who had both worked on building Explorer.

Mills realized he couldn't build a 1-G trainer in a mere ninety days, but he did feel that his team could build a rugged training vehicle that would closely resemble the LRV using readily available steel tubing, surplus or salvage parts and some clever imagination. Within the limitations of the vehicle he had to build, Mills also wanted Grover to be electrically powered. He was familiar with numerous different types of electrical motors, and he drew on his experiences during World War II to seek out a source for the vehicle's drive motors. After doing some research, Mills settled on the landing gear motor from a B-26 bomber from a military surplus dealer in California This motor had a built-in gear reduction of 45:1 and each cost a mere $12.50. To power the motors, Mills chose four standard off-the-shelf six-volt lead-acid batteries,

Hip Hop Self Expresion Poverty

Astronaut David Scott (center) points out features on a map to Jim Irwin while sitting on Grover during a training exercise at Cinder Lake Crater Field in Flagstaff, Arizona in November 1970. To Scott's left is Harrison ''Jack'' Schmitt, who would later be selected as Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 17. (USGS)

Astronaut David Scott (center) points out features on a map to Jim Irwin while sitting on Grover during a training exercise at Cinder Lake Crater Field in Flagstaff, Arizona in November 1970. To Scott's left is Harrison ''Jack'' Schmitt, who would later be selected as Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 17. (USGS)

mounted in the forward portion of the vehicle's chassis as with the LRV. Torsion bar suspension would provide the most compact envelope and after looking at several different automobiles, he settled on the torsion bar suspension used on the British-built Morris Minor he found in an auto salvage yard in Phoenix, Arizona. Grover would even have its own directional gyro system. Mills selected an electrically-driven gyro from a retired Frontier Airlines passenger aircraft and modified it to the necessary specifications. The design team also drew from the electrical servo-actuated steering system used on Explorer and modified this for use on Grover as well.

Working from the Boeing blueprints, Mills established Grover's wheelbase and wheel track. Wheels and tires were selected which would place the center chassis section and seats at the same height as the LRV. With these key dimensions, work began at the East Flagstaff fabrication shop at 1720 East Street. Chrome-Moly alloy steel rectangular section tubing was cut and welded to replicate the fixed forward, center and aft chassis. Front and rear control arm pivot points were welded to the

Jim Irwin and David Scott with Grover near the Rio Grande Gorge during a field training exercise in March 1971. The location was selected for its similarity to Hadley Rille, which they would explore during their mission to the Appenine region of the Moon on Apollo 15. The astronauts are wearing the non-functional versions of the PLSS and their Hasselblad cameras. (USGS)

Jim Irwin and David Scott with Grover near the Rio Grande Gorge during a field training exercise in March 1971. The location was selected for its similarity to Hadley Rille, which they would explore during their mission to the Appenine region of the Moon on Apollo 15. The astronauts are wearing the non-functional versions of the PLSS and their Hasselblad cameras. (USGS)

chassis, and the control arms with drive motors bolted into place, followed by the wheels with tires. The seat frames were fabricated from aluminum with foam bottom cushions and built-in mockups of the Personal Life Support System mounted to the seat backs so the astronauts, working in their shirtsleeves, were in the proper position relative to the various parts of the vehicle. Reasonably accurate mockups of the control panel, High-Gain Antenna, Low-Gain Antenna, Color TV camera and 16 mm Data Acquisition Camera were added later and completed the appearance of Grover. Beattie had kept in routine contact with Mills to monitor Grover's progress and, true to his word, Mills and his team completed the vehicle within the necessary ninety days.

The first vehicle test of the Grover took place on 21 August 1970 at the Cinder Lake crater field outside Flagstaff. On 1 September, astronauts John Young, Charles Duke, Fred Haise, Tony England, Gerald Carr and Bill Pogue, along with other personnel from the Manned Spacecraft Center, flew to Flagstaff to participate in geologic field training in northern Arizona and southern Utah. The following day, they paid a visit to Putty Mills at his USGS fabrication shop to check out the new vehicle built by the Branch of Astrogeology. Grover was taken to a vacant lot across the street from the shop and the astronauts were given the chance to drive it. All agreed that Grover would be a superb vehicle to aid in mission simulation. Most amazing of all, Mills and his team had succeeded in building Grover for less than $2,000.00.

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