Science: Roving the Moon

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Roving the Moon The flight of Apollo 15 will be man's most ambitious adventure in space. After its scheduled lift-off from Cape Kennedy next Monday, July 26 (at 9:34 a.m., E.D.T.), the 6.4 million-lb. rocket will hurl U.S. astronauts toward a perilous landing at the foot of the moon's towering, 12,000-ft.-high Apennine Mountains. During their 67-hour visit, twice as long as any previous stay, they will crisscross more than 22 miles of lunar terrain, traveling to the very edge of a winding, quarter-mile-deep gorge called Had ley Rille in the forbidding lunar highlands. Before their return to earth with an expected haul of 250 Ibs. of moon rocks, they will put a tiny scientific satellite into lunar orbit.

Big Payoff. NASA expects such an enormous payoff from Apollo 15 that it is already calling the flight the first truly scientific expedition to the moon. The lunar module Falcon has been packed with 2,500 Ibs. of added scientific and life-support equipment. The two moon walkers, Flight Commander David R. Scott, 39, a veteran of the earth-orbiting flights of Gemini 8 and Apollo 9, and LM Pilot James B. Irwin, 41, a rookie, have had such a heavy dose of geology training that NASA's usually critical scientists say that the astronauts are ready to go for their Ph.D.s. Even the third member of the all-Air Force crew, Alfred M. Worden, 39, who also will be making his first space venture, has been given an extra dose of scientific indoctrination. While waiting for his buddies to rejoin him aboard the orbiting command ship Endeavour, he will conduct a host of experiments, including closeup photography of the moon with a specially designed stereo camera. He will also take a daring space walk on the trip home.

As an example of sheer technological innovation, however, nothing aboard Apollo 15 quite beats NASA's new I.RV (for Lunar Roving Vehicle), more commonly known as the "moon rover." Tucked away in the side of Falcon, the collapsible, 10-ft.-long jumble of aluminum tubing, wire and rods might easily be mistaken for a Rube Goldbergian version of an old-fashioned foldaway Murphy bed. Actually, it is one of the most unusual and expensive cars ever built (cost of the moon buggy program: $37.8 million).

Capable of carrying two astronauts and their full baggage, a payload more than twice the vehicle's own earth weight (460 Ibs.), the buggy is a model of efficiency, if not Daytona-like speed (maximum: 10 m.p.h.). The battery-powered car should be able to cross crevasses as wide as 28 in., clamber up and down slopes of 25° and travel up to 40 miles. Each of its four wide-track, wire-mesh wheels is driven by its own gears and a i-h.p. electric motor. In case one motor fails, it can be cut out of the power system and the vehicle can push on—if necessary on the power of only two motors.

Though it will not range more than five miles from the lunar lander, the rover includes enough navigational gear (a gyroscope, an odometer and a computer) that the astronauts should always know their location in relation to the lunar module. Scott and Irwin may find the equipment extremely helpful: last February, the Apollo 14 astronauts became so confused by the moon's baffling, undulating terrain that they briefly lost their bearings.

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