RR Auctions in Boston have just announced an extremely rare consignment; an actual NASA lunar buggy prototype. The Local Scientific Survey Module prepared by Brown Engineering Company never actually made it to the moon, and NASA seems to have let it slip out of their hands many years ago.
Here it is with Saturn V (and others) rocket scientist Wernher von Braun at the Marshal Space Flight Centre in Huntsville, Alabama. Aeronautical research engineer Otha Vaughan worked with von Braun during this period. According to an interview with Vaughan;
‘Vaughan said NASA built two sizes of rover models, and both were called Local Scientific Survey Modules (LSSMs) at one time. “But then von Braun wrote an article in 1966, I guess it was, about the LSSM and he called it the Lunar Scientific Survey Module. I don’t know why he call it that. So, officially, they can have different names and that’s what’s confused all the people.”
“In the beginning,” Vaughan said, “(von Braun) wanted to build some kind of small vehicle he could play around with. He got Brown Engineering (now Teledyne Brown Engineering in Huntsville) to build this small LSSM, which was called the Brown LSSM.”‘
Brown Engineering had been involved with earlier lunar mobility projects and von Braun bypassed regular procurement processes to get them involved with this Mobility Test Article, although ultimately they would not be asked to tender for the Apollo lunar vehicles.
The Brown LSSM was constructed with as many commercially-available components as possible; for example each wheel on the LSSM was powered by an electric motor fed by standard truck batteries. It had a theoretical 10 mile ‘radius of action’ and Popular Science suggested (after a test drive on Earth) that it would be best to keep the speed below 20mph.
Knology.net outlines the LSSM’s contribution as such;
‘This vehicle was later flown in early 1967 in the USAF KC-135 Low Gravity aircraft while the aircraft was flown to simulate the 1/6 G of the lunar gravity. These flight helped in the redesign of the seats and hand holds with the astronauts climbing into and exiting the vehicle as the flight profiles were being flown. The vehicle was also operated in remote mode to determine the accelerations at both axles, and vehicle center of gravity, vehicle bounce heights as it traveled over simulated obstacles and vehicle speed. Results helped in the design of the hand controller later used in the rover design and in the requirement for an energy absorbing suspension system and a very soft wheel design while driving in the lunar environment.’
It was anticipated that the LSSM would be carried to the moon on one of two Saturn V rockets, mounted on the Lunar Module Shelter. The second Saturn V would carry the astronauts, who would lower the vehicle to the moon’s surface. Cost issues precluded the scope of this project. This image appeared in November 1966 issue of Popular Science, but by then it seems the project had progressed beyond the Brown LSSM.
This archive photograph shows something similar to the sketch in Popular Science, but I’m not sure if this was the other LSSM mentioned by Vaughan.
I think this is the other vehicle mentioned. It was prepared by Bendix, and was to include a laboratory module mounted amidships.
It’s easy to get distracted on this subject. For example, here is one of a few GM vehicles developed for NASA. Rather than go too far off-subject, anyone interested can click to knology here.
The Brown LSSM seems like a crude version of the more delicate-looking Lunar Roving Vehicle, a design icon in itself. Nonetheless the Brown LSSM is part of the gloried history in which man attempts to broaden the moon’s CC credentials.
Back in October of last year, Jason Koebler at Motherboard wrote about the Brown LSSM’s apparent demise:
‘According to NASA, the now-destroyed rover was a Local Scientific Survey Module designed, built, and tested at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in 1965 and 1966. A US Air Force Historian who happened to be passing through the small town of Blountsville, Alabama spotted the rover in the backyard of the person who ultimately ended up selling it, and alerted NASA in February of 2014. NASA apparently dragged its feet in recovering the rover, however: By December, it had been destroyed.’
But not so. Follow the story of our Auction Classic’s rediscovery below.