July 31, 1971 – The first drive on the moon

Apollo 15 LRV on the moon

In a truly out of this world event, US astronauts David Scott and James Irwin became the first people to drive an automobile on a lunar surface on this day in 1971. The not so casual cruise occurred during the Apollo 15 NASA mission to the moon, with the buggy taking to the lunar dust the day after their craft made a successful landing. 

The Lunar Roving Vehicles (LRV) were built by Boeing under contract from NASA. The first came to a total cost of $38,000,000. The moon buggies weighed in at about 460 pounds each, and were foldable for easy transport. LRVs were used during the final three Apollo missions to the moon, 15, 16 and 17. The vehicles allowed astronauts to cover greater distances during survey and research work and provided for easier collection of surface samples. Under safety guidance, the astronauts were restrained to distances that they could walk back should the LRV break down. 

Above: Apollo 15 Lunar Module Pilot James Irwin salutes the U.S. flag.
Top: Commander David Scott drives the Rover near the LM Falcon during Apollo 15

The battery powered LRVs had four wheel steering, but the front wheel steering system did not function properly during Apollo 15. The rear wheel system provided enough control for safe maneuverability. Each LRV had a designed top speed of 8 miles per hour (13 km/h). However, during the Apollo 17 mission, astronaut Eugene Cernan recorded a top speed of 11.2 mph (18.0 km/h), giving him the unofficial lunar land-speed record. All three of the LRVs remain on the lunar surface.

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