When we think about astronauts on the Moon, we think about them in big, bulky spacesuits, hopping around and maybe driving a lunar rover. But what if they’d been total bad boys with lunar motorcycles? Or had huge all-terrain vehicles? NASA explored quite a few different mobility concepts before settling on the rover we know and love.
The primary goal of the Apollo program was to land astronauts on the Moon. As such, the first landing missions were about the landing itself, getting them on the surface and back again. But even before these missions launched, NASA knew it wanted to get significant science from extended surface exploration on later missions. Planners wanted to pack the EVAs with experiments and extend the astronauts’ range. This latter goal meant giving the astronauts some way to cover more ground than they could on foot. Though NASA did consider various arrangements of flying platforms, the agency ultimately focusses on more traditional means of transportation: lunar roving vehicles.
Large Mobility Concepts
Bellcomm researched various roving vehicles on NASA’s behalf, building on the Apollo hardware under development, namely the command and lunar modules. What emerged was a series of extended range and duration mobile habitats for lunar exploration.
One proposal was called MOLEM, short for Mobile LM Shelter. This concept combined a third-generation Lunar Module with a rover, turning the landing vehicle itself into the rover, thus eliminating the need for another vehicle on the surface. There were two versions of this proposal. The first was the minimum change version that added a four-wheeled chassis to the LM. The second was the “moderate” change option that added a two-wheeled trailer to carry more gear in addition to the chassis. In either case, fuel cells provided power for the mission’s duration.
This mobile unit could land autonomously up to 90 days ahead of a crew. Then, once the crew was on board, the MOLEM could support them for as long as two weeks. It would serve as their primary living quarters and could support EVAs meaning the crew could step outside the MOLEM to explore the surface on foot. They wouldn’t be relegated to looking out the windows. The mass varied depending on the specific mission, but it was a…