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To expand their range on visits to the moon, astronauts needed a way to travel faster, go farther, and carry more than walking provided. Thankfully, they had the Lunar Roving Vehicle.

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It took nearly a decade of work and billions dollars for Neil Armstrong and. Buzz Aldrin to walk on the surface of the Moon.

But you know what happened after those first historic steps? They went back inside the lander. Only two and a half hours later.

And in that time, neither of them even walked more than 100 meters from the lunar lander. To do more science, future astronauts would need to travel faster, go farther, and carry more. And to do that, they needed to stop being moonwalkers and become moondrivers.

Fortunately, NASA had just the tool for them: the Moon buggy! Okay, technically it was called the Lunar Roving Vehicle, but c’mon. The Moon buggy helped astronauts on Apollos 15, 16, and 17 do more science and bring back more samples than earlier missions.

And along the way, we built a really cool car. Engineers had actually been thinking about how to build a lunar rover since the early 1960s, but those first concepts were totally different. Some engineers imagined heavy duty, fully-enclosed vehicles that also gave astronauts a place to sleep and work.

Which was nothing like the final design. By the time the Saturn V rocket was actually flying, it became clear that there would be almost no weight to spare, so the plans had to be scaled down a bit. In 1969, the final contract was approved by NASA.

Then, the rover was put together by Boeing and General Motors. It was built of aluminum alloy, weighed just 210 kilograms, about a sixth of a modern-day compact car, and had to fold in half to fit beneath the lunar module. But it was also sturdy, and could carry 490 kilograms, more than twice its weight and enough for two astronauts, their tools, and a bunch of moon rocks.

It even had space for some nice amenities, like seat belts, an armrest, and fenders. So it was no Rolls-Royce. But considering that it was a car on the Moon, it was pretty impressive.

The first Apollo missions had shown that the Moon’s soft, powdery surface could make for uneven footing. So the Moon buggy had not only four-wheel drive, but four engines, one for each wheel. Each produced only about 190 Watts of power, or about a quarter horsepower, but the Moon’s low gravity meant that that was good enough for a top speed of about 13 kilometers per hour.

The lunar roving vehicle also carried what might have be the world’s first dash-cam, a TV camera controllable from Earth. That not only enhanced the PR value of later missions, but allowed scientists at mission control to look for interesting features as the astronauts drove around. Still, even that wasn’t the most impressive piece of equipment on board:.

The Moon buggy also carried a revolutionary navigation computer. Since the Moon doesn’t have a magnetic field to move a compass needle, and since surface maps didn’t have much detail, the astronauts were in real danger of getting lost. And, let’s be real: Everything on the Moon just kind of looks the same.

To overcome that, a first-of-its-kind computer combined data about the rover’s orientation, taken from an onboard gyroscope, with odometer readings from each wheel. That let it track the vehicle’s exact meter-by-meter progress across the surface and plot a direct course back to home base. And just in case that failed, each astronaut also had to learn to read a special lunar sundial to determine their direction.

Single-use batteries powered everything, but power was never actually a problem. Instead, the limiting factor was the rule that barred astronauts from driving farther away from the lander than they had air left to walk back, a few kilometers or so. That way, if the buggy broke down, they still had a way home!

All-told, the lunar roving vehicle seemed like a miracle machine, and all that wizardry doesn’t come cheap. On average, each rover would cost about $60 million today. Fortunately, we put them to good use.

Apollos 15, 16, and 17 each brought a rover, and all were driven more than 25 kilometers over at least three hours. With them, astronauts were able to bring back individual rocks with masses as much as 11.7 kilograms, more than half the total picked up on Apollo 11. Also, since the lunar landers had to touch down a safe distance from things like big craters, the Moon buggy opened up those areas for closer study on all three missions.

On Apollo 16, it enabled John Young and Charlie Duke to drive more than 150 meters higher than their landing site in search of samples of the area’s unique geology. And the crew of Apollo 17 used their rover to deploy literal bombs on the surface. Just in case you needed another reason to think Apollo astronauts were cool.

When exploded, these bombs created tremors picked up by seismic sensors and used those to understand the physics of the Moon’s crust. The experiment revealed that the top layer of the Moon’s crust is about 1.4 kilometers thick. It’s also a lot more broken up than similar areas on Earth, probably because of the constant impacts from space.

All together, the Moon buggies were quintessential Apollo. They were ultimately designed in only months and did so much with so little, relying on clever engineering and state-of-the-art computers to enable exploration. Without them, we’d probably know a lot less about the Moon than we do today.

Which might make them a little cooler than, say, a Tesla. And, hey, what’s more American than a car on the Moon? So, NASA scientists had to do A LOT of creative thinking and problem solving to figure out how best to design and use the Moon buggies.

And that made me want to work out my own spatial problem solving skills. That’s one small step for man, and now I’m really tired. Anybody got a moon buggy anywhere? has a ton of great spatial reasoning quizzes, and today I’ll be taking the 3D Geometry Puzzles Shortest Distance quiz. [tires squealing]. It starts out a little like the story of the tortoise and the hare, but it’s an ant and a fly trying to make their way through a 3D cube. They even put them there so you can visualize it, and I think they’re pretty stinkin’ cute!

In this case, the ant definitely has the longer distance to travel, because it can’t fly through the cube and has to walk along its edges. As you get deeper into the quiz, it gets more complicated and. I almost wanted to make a 3D model to help me think through the distance. [honking].

What’s cool, is that I’m not alone in this. When you view the solutions, Brilliant has created 3D to 2D models to illustrate how to think through these problems. So give them a try.

And right now, is offering the first 77 SciShow Space viewers that sign up at 20% off their annual premium subscription, and you’ll support SciShow Space, so thanks! [♪ OUTRO].