The New York Times
July 27, 2021
July 27, 2021
Article continues at link.50 Years Ago, NASA Put a Car on the Moon
Dave Scott was not about to pass by an interesting rock without stopping. It was July 31, 1971, and he and Jim Irwin, his fellow Apollo 15 astronaut, were the first people to drive on the moon. After a 6-hour inaugural jaunt in the new lunar rover, the two were heading back to their lander, the Falcon, when Mr. Scott made an unscheduled pit stop.
West of a crater called Rhysling, Mr. Scott scrambled out of the rover and quickly picked up a black lava rock, full of holes formed by escaping gas. Mr. Scott and Mr. Irwin had been trained in geology and knew the specimen, a vesicular rock, would be valuable to scientists on Earth. They also knew that if they asked for permission to stop and get it, clock-watching mission managers would say no. So Mr. Scott made up a story that they stopped the rover because he was fidgeting with his seatbelt. The sample was discovered when the astronauts returned to Earth, Mr. Scott described what he’d done, and “Seatbelt Rock” became one of the most prized geologic finds from Apollo 15.
Like many lunar samples returned to Earth by the final Apollo missions, Seatbelt Rock never would have been collected if the astronauts had not brought a car with them. Apollo 11 and Apollo 13 are the NASA lunar missions that tend to be remembered most vividly. But at the 50th anniversary of Apollo 15, which launched on July 26, 1971, some space enthusiasts, historians and authors are giving the lunar rover its due as one of the most enduring symbols of the American moon exploration program.
Foldable, durable, battery-powered and built by Boeing and General Motors, the vehicle is seen by some as making the last three missions into the crowning achievement of the Apollo era.
The moon car was also quintessentially American. The rover’s exposed chassis, umbrella-like antenna and wire wheels meant it looked like no car on Earth, yet its connection to the American auto industry and the nation’s love affair with the automobile captivated public attention like nothing since Apollo 11, Ms. Muir-Harmony said.
Starting with Project Mercury in the 1960s, a Florida car dealer allowed astronauts to lease Chevrolet cars for $1, which were later sold to the public. The Apollo 15 crew chose red, white and blue Corvettes. A photo spread in Life magazine showed the astronauts posing with their iconic American muscle cars alongside the moon buggy, making the lunar rover look cool by association, Ms. Muir-Harmony said. “There’s a lot to unpack in that picture,” she added.