The "Moon Buggy Mission," Apollo 15

This week marks the 40th anniversary for Apollo 15, the less famous of manned lunar missions including Apollo 11, Apollo 13 ("NASA's finest hour"), and Apollo 14 (the one where Alan Shepard played golf on the moon). Ben Cosgrove of LIFE points us to a related gallery of classic images, and explains:

While Armstrong and Aldrin walking on the lunar surface was mind-blowing, the idea of Irwin and Scott cruising around on a 450-pound moon buggy that they'd carted a quarter-million miles from Earth -- during a basically flawless mission when Scott and Irwin spent three full days on the moon's surface -- makes XV the coolest of all the Apollo missions.


  1. While visiting the Kennedy Space Center in Florida (for STS-134) I heard that all the Apollo-era astronauts were given a Corvette for a $1 per year lease from a local Chevy dealer. One of the early Corvettes is on display at the Apollo / Saturn V Center at KSC.

  2. Plus, these guys quoted Heinlein’s “The Green Hills of Earth” while on the Moon!

    1. Yeah, lightweight ruled.  Since they weighed only about fifty pounds with suits it probably wasn’t that bad.  This was really the first mission where the astronauts actually had training in geology as well.

  3. I think about when Apollo 17’s lunar rover was 4.7 miles / 7.6 kilometers from the LEM.   Just imagine if it had failed then.   Yes, the astronauts probably would have made it back, but that would have been a nerve-wracking lunar jog.     Also, the decisions… do you follow your tire tracks back exactly, or do you try to do some dead-reckoning short cuts?     Hope you guessed right!

  4. The limit on how far they drove away from the LM was how far they could walk back if they had to.

    The biggest factor in that, strangely, was how much water their life support packs carried.  They were cooled by circulating water jacket in their clothing and waste heat was carried away from the pack to transport through sublimating (i.e. evaporation).  The more excise they performed, the hotter they got, and the more water was lost in keeping them cool.

    Their activities were budgeted based on the amount of cooling they could provide.  Of course they kept a generous amount in reserve.

  5. I would love to see how that buggy was packaged into the decent stage of the LM for transport to the moon. That had to be some serious folding and fitting.

  6. My father was lucky/talented enough to play a part in the steering motor and drivetrain design and manufacturing of the Lunar Rover.  From what he tells me, it was indeed some serious folding, and provided another example of trickle-down science from Nasa to the streets…  so what if they cost $20 million each – we spend more than that in a day on gas for our war machines.

  7. We can fly to the moon, cruise around in craters, and yet we are unable to balance our budget… then again I imagine that the US Economy being a problem with 300 million some variables is probably a more complicated problem.

    Maybe the US just needs to use a better integration scheme.  Its too bad that so little funding goes to NASA, those guys specialize in numerical integration…

  8. If you’re a geologist Apollo 15 is famous because it was the first Apollo mission to do real science. That buggy let them get out and about in the field and both astronauts had been turned into fine rock hounds. 

    The highlight of their mission was the discovery of the so-called Genesis Rock, a chunk of anorthosite which is now thought to be a chunk of the primordial Lunar crust which formed within 100 million years of the origin of the Solar System.And anyone who is a space fiend should make sure they’ve seen HBO’s ‘From the Earth to the Moon’; amongst many fine episodes, the one on Apollo 15 is a great demonstration of why geologists get excited about rocks.

  9. Coll gallery but the picture of the Corvettes is bugging me because the stripes on the black one are reversed from the pattern on the other two.

  10. The LRV made all the difference on Apollo. The previous mission had two guys on foot and a hand cart. The crew walked about one kilometre towards cone crater. They gave up about 100 metres away and never saw their target. The LRV enabled the crew to drive in 1km circles if need be to find their target. On their first EVA they drove part way up a mountain.

    Best EV ever.

    1. I think this statement could be made for pretty much every mission NASA ever had.  Apollo 12 was the real pack of jokers though and 15 was their backup crew so there was likely some bleed through as to how one should act.

      I do know they got into a ton of trouble when they got back revolving around first day covers, none of them ever flew in space again.

  11. Apollo 15 was less famous than Apollo 14? I don’t think so, not for me, anyway. Apollo 14 had a wheel-barrow, and 15 had a go-kart. That alone made 15 more special for me. Granted, I must have been 11 at the time, but I don’t see any reason to change my opinion 40 years later.

    15 also had a really spiffy mission patch:

  12. Usually when I say this I am being ironic and /or sarcastic, but here I can gladly chant ” USA USA USA!!”

    I mean, c’mon. . . MOON BUGGIES!  It almost makes up for Vietnam.

    Well, maybe not, but . . . MOON BUGGIES!


  13. My inner 33 year old is peeing himself over those Sting Rays. Of all the American sports cars ever made, the late-60’s to late-70’s Sting Rays (especially the late 70’s models) remain my favorites. Well, those and the Cobras, brought to us by AC and the legendary Mr. Carroll Shelby.

    More on-topic, the Apollo 15 mission was awesome! Before this very posting on BoingBoing, I never before heard of anybody shrugging and dismissing that mission as inferior in any way. That was the mission where car-crazy Americans got to blast a car up to the moon and go drive around for awhile. What could be more synonymous with our culture?

  14. One thing I have always wondered about, and never been able to find ( despite having had the priveledge of meeting 2 moonwalkers…too in awe to ask the question in the short time I had with them but that is another story) is what was the atmosphere/temperature like back inside the LM in between the EVA’s. I know they slept in hammocks and there was a smell of the moondust, but other than that I wonder about things like the temperature and the knowledge that right outside that thin protective layer of metal was the void. Must’ve been tough to go to sleep.

    1. what was the atmosphere/temperature like back inside the LM in between the EVA’s.

      From reading the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal I believe the environmental control system on the LM kept the temperature at around 15 degrees C. Its harder to say what went through peoples minds though. Michael Collins wrote a great book called Carrying The Fire where he discusses his thoughts during the missions. You might want to take a look at that. Its worth pointing out that with all the somewhat dodgy simulations these people did on Earth they may have been safer flying in space. The only time a person was exposed to vacuum during the space program was in a vacuum chamber.

      EDIT: fixed a typo

  15. Found something interesting while pursuing links
    There is a link of important apollo 15 images:
    One of them, an earthrise, is like no other I have seen. It shows an earthrise, but is exposed so that you can see the starfield behind it. I would like a copy for my wall. So, I follow the License link and get to Getty images. There is no real choice for “I want to print a high quality copy for my wall”, but I muddle through and get something approximating that and find that for a 20 year license, it will be $1050.    !!!
    Should this not be public domain. It is pretty obvious who paid for the acquisition of the photo. Who had the right to sell our rights to this photo?
    (sigh)… just one more thing in this world to be outraged about.

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