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50 Years Ago, NASA Put a Car on the Moon

  • July 27, 2021

The white rock was later named Genesis Rock, because scientists initially thought it dated to the moon’s formation.

The astronauts’ excitement, and their car, brought the Apollo missions back down to Earth, Ms. Muir-Harmony said. “It provided a point of access, even as the exploration of the moon was becoming increasingly complex and complicated to follow.”

Mr. Swift notes that some news reports at the time considered the rover an “inevitable, almost comic product of the most automotive people on Earth,” although there was nothing inevitable about this extraterrestrial horseless carriage.

To travel along with the astronauts instead of using a separate rocket, the rover had to weigh less than 500 pounds, but bear twice that in human and geological cargo. On the moon, it had to operate in temperature swings of more than 500 degrees Fahrenheit between sunlight and shade; withstand abrasive lunar dust and micro-meteoroids traveling faster than bullets; and cover a sharp, rugged surface that contained mountains, craters, loose gravel and powder. GM and Boeing engineers scrambled to finish their design in time for the final Apollo missions under threats that NASA would cancel the rover program before it ever left the ground.

​“If it hadn’t been for a couple of engineers at General Motors, there wouldn’t have been a rover at all,” Mr. Swift said in an interview.

His book also explains that immigrant engineers, including Mieczyslaw Gregory Bekker, raised in Poland, and Ferenc Pavlics, who was born in Hungary, persevered despite large budget overruns, blown deadlines and technical challenges. Though astronauts tend to claim more of the spotlight, engineers played seminal roles in the space program, Mr. Swift said, and some like Mr. Bekker and Mr. Pavlics highlighted the impact that immigrants had on American innovation.

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