The Lunar Roving Vehicle Wins The Mobility Debate

As late as mid-1968, numerous contractors still held the view of using dual Saturn V launches to support extensive Apollo missions and their considerable hardware requirements. For example, in May 1968 GMDRL became AC-Electronics Defense Research Laboratories and published a presentation titled Roving Vehicles for Apollo Lunar Exploration Program. The presentation discussed the work the General Motors division had conducted and its relevant experience in the development of lunar surface vehicles, followed by a technical discussion of dual-mode vehicles, operating either manned or unmanned on the lunar surface, that were compatible with single- or dual-launch missions. Of considerable interest was the photo and description of the Lunar Wheel and Drive Experimental Test Program, which showed a wire mesh wheel reinforced with riveted chevrons (shown within a circular test fixture), very similar to the eventual wheels used on the actual LRV. The paper was followed up in June with Dual-Mode Roving Vehicles for Apollo Lunar Surface Exploration, authored by F. Pavlics, J.P. Finelli, B.P. Miller and R.T. Kowalski. This paper specifically addressed a Lunar Rover design weighing between 273 and 909 kg (600 and 2000 lb) and recognized the necessity of a folding vehicle to fit within the triangular envelope available within Quadrant 1 of the Lunar Module. The paper stated: ''The forward and aft chassis extensions are folded over the top of the chassis and the crew station folded onto the main chassis structure. The suspension arms, which are attached to the chassis extensions, are deflected until the wheels are parallel to and within the envelope edges. The suspensions are then locked into place with spring pins. The antennas are folded and the TV mast telescoped to fit the envelope constraints.'' This paper illustrated the stowage envelope and the actual deployment sequence in photographs of a -scale model of the Lunar Roving Vehicle deployed from a scale model of the Lunar Module.

The hope of some in the scientific community, and the belief of the aerospace firms involved in studies that the latter Apollo missions would use two Saturn Vs, evaporated in conjunction with the rapidly declining Apollo budget in the later 1960s. Economic reality now dictated that each Apollo mission would use a single Saturn V, and lunar orbit rendezvous would be the mission mode for getting to and from the Moon. This made weight a prime issue. Any Lunar Roving Vehicle would

Lunar Roving Vehicle
NASA also issued contracts for pressurized vehicle studies. Such a vehicle with crew provisions would permit lunar exploration missions lasting days or weeks far from the lunar base. This vehicle was built by Grumman. (NASA/MSFC)

have to be as light as possible and the fanciful pressurized vehicles were no longer seriously considered. However, the LRV, as it would become known, was not universally welcomed. Vehicle weight would impact the amount of precious fuel the Lunar Module could carry for landing and - most of all - hovering to give the mission commander time to locate the best possible landing site. Running out of fuel at this point could prove disastrous to the mission and fatal to the astronauts themselves.

In 1967, Grumman Aircraft Engineering Company, the prime contractor for the Lunar Module (LM), initiated studies on modifying the LM to permit longer duration missions of several days on the Moon; the first generation LMs were only capable of landing and staying on the lunar surface for thirty-six hours maximum. These studies proved beneficial when the company was formally requested by NASA's Office of Manned Space Flight early in 1969 to undertake studies to upgrade the LM to permit the longer duration ''J'' configuration for the latter Apollo missions. This would eventually include increased payload carrying capacity to the lunar surface with the addition of a Lunar Roving Vehicle.

The decision that the Apollo missions would now use a single Saturn V for the lunar missions irked Sam Romano at GM Defense Research Laboratories in Santa Barbara. He had coordinated much of the early lunar vehicle studies in conjunction with Boeing and had some of the brightest men working there involved with such studies, such as Dr. M.G. Bekker and Ferenc Pavlics. With only one Saturn V to be used, the idea of a Lunar Rover was effectively shelved. However, Romano wanted to find a way to make a lunar vehicle happen. Late in 1968, he traveled to Washington with several of his engineers and met with NASA managers involved with the Lunar Module. Romano wanted to know what space was available for a possible Lunar Rover and what the weight limit might be. He was told that the instrument quadrant to the right of the LM ladder might be available, but the upper limit on the vehicle's weight could be no more than 227 kg (500 lb).

''We went back to Santa Barbara,'' Romano said in an interview with this author, ''and for four months, did studies and came up with a configuration that would fit right in that box and would weigh less than 500 pounds. We made a /6 -scale model of the rover and a -scale model of the LM. We then made a movie of the rover folded up in the LM compartment and filmed it deploying. We took the models and the film to Huntsville and showed it to Len Bradford and some of his engineers. Bradford said, 'We have to show this to Dr. von Braun.' So, we went up to the ninth floor of building 4200 at MSFC. I put the rover model down on the corridor floor. It was remotely controlled and we drove it up to Dr. von Braun's office door. One of the NASA guys knocked on the door and then opened it. We drove the rover model into his office, and von Braun was on the phone. He sat up in his chair, hung up the phone and said, 'What have we here?' That gave us an opportunity to tell him what we could do. After about half an hour or so showing the film and telling him how we could do it, he finally slammed his fist on his desk and said, 'We must do this'.''

That series of events is corroborated by Ferenc Pavlics, one of Romano's chief engineers. Pavlics had fled the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and succeeded in coming to the United States. Dr. Bekker felt Pavlics to be a good intuitive engineer,

Moon Rover
Smaller vehicles were requested by NASA as a follow-on program to the larger MTAs. This Bendix-built vehicle is being driven by "Putty" Mills and Harrison Schmitt at the USGS Cinder Lake Crater Field in Arizona. (U.S. Geologic Survey)

and in 1959 Pavlics joined GM's Defense Research Laboratories, which at the time were in Detroit, Michigan. He later received his Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan. When the division was moved to Santa Barbara, California in 1961, Sam Romano, Dr. Bekker, Ferenc Pavlics and many others moved with it.

"We went to Huntsville and got a very good reception from the technical group of people to our presentation,'' Pavlics recalled in 2005. "To embellish our presentation, we built a /6 -scale model of the proposed concept and we took that along with us to the presentation. It was a radio remote-controlled model with electric motors, and steering which was functionally an exact representation of our proposed concept. It could be folded up into this triangular envelope which NASA described as available for this purpose. We did demonstrate this during the

Huntsville visit. After the technical presentation, they suggested we show it to Dr. von Braun. This model was actually built by me. My wife even stitched the seats. We used my son's G.I. Joe with an astronaut suit. It was just the right scale. Dr. von Braun was very surprised to see something like that coming into his office. We explained what the concept was all about. It took a considerable amount of selling effort to get the idea across that it was possible to do and it could be done within the timeframe. I still have this model in my possession.''

On 7 April 1969, Dr. von Braun announced that he was establishing a Lunar Roving Task Team at MSFC, and selected Saverio "Sonny" Morea to be the program manager. Morea's affiliation with von Braun dated from his guidance and control work on the Redstone ballistic missile. He then worked on the rocket engine of the Jupiter IRBM and then the H-1 engine for the Saturn I. Morea had managed the successful F-1 main engine development and manufacturing program for the Saturn V as well as its J-2 upper stage engine, before being given the equally challenging task of managing the LRV program.

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