The Apollo lunar surface missions had limitations, specifically, consumables like oxygen and power. The lunar module could only support two men on the surface for as long as the mission dictated. The astronauts’ spacesuits, more properly their Portable Life Support System backpacks, could only keep them alive for a few hours at a time. Each EVA was therefore planned to maximize the use of those consumables, and once the power and oxygen levels were low, the astronauts had no choice but to go back to the lunar module. There was another limitation to how much the astronauts could explore: it was easy to get lost. If they lost sight of the lunar module, there was nothing in the foreign lunar terrain to tell them how to get back to the LM. So NASA started looking at ways the crew could get further from their home base, and one option was small flying platforms.
NASA started researching mobility aides in the summer of 1967; the first landing was around the corner so it was time to prepare for extended missions. NASA awarded two Lunar Flying Unit study contracts: one to Bell Aerosystems and one to North American Rockwell, the company that was also building the command-service module. Fleshed out bids came back after five months.
Bell’s One Man Lunar Flying Vehicle
Bell wasn’t new to the idea of personal flying systems when NASA awarded its study contract. In addition to some early research with the agency, the company had developed a Rocket Belt. This wearable Hydrogen Peroxide Propulsion System provided 300 pounds thrust and made more than 3,000 successful demonstration flights. Bell built off this prior experience for its lunar flying system.
Bell’s proposal called for the astronaut to stand on a platform supported on four little legs similar to those on the lunar module; it was, in essence, a small stool. Also like the lunar module, there was no seat. Bell knew that in the lower lunar gravity environment, legs were excellent shock absorbers. Instead, safety straps helped anchor the astronaut in front of a central console that housed similar controls to those in the lunar module. The astronaut operated a handle, and those inputs activated two throttleable engines mounted on either side of the console. The engines were designed to generate between 50 and 300 pounds of thrust, which, in the…