Right now, sitting unattended and unlocked, in a pretty empty neighborhood, are three of the most valuable cars ever built — the lunar rovers from the Apollo 15, 16, and 17 missions. Those sweet, sweet mesh-tire’d rides could be yours for the taking — if you only knew how to drive one. That’s where we can help.
Of course, there’s also the issue of getting to the moon to get one, and then getting it back to earth, re-entering the atmosphere, and landing with it and yourself intact, but I’m sure you can figure that part out — you’re pretty resourceful. Think of your Grand Theft Rover adventure as having three parts:
1. Get to the Moon
2. Get the rover, drive it to whatever you’re getting home in
3. Get home.
We’ll help with number 2. Actually, it’s really NASA that’s helping with that, because they foolishly made available the whole Lunar Rover Operations Handbook! Suckers! Those things are practically ours now!
Of course, you’re a young go-getter, with things to do and meals to eat and internet-arranged sex-meetings to attend — I get it. You just don’t have the time to sit down and slog through some mimeographed crew-cut government tome about translational hand controllers and gyroscopes and pulse-width modulablah blah bullshit. You’re barely able to make it through this sentence, I bet, the din of pagers and cell phones and telex machine bells blaring all around you, and there’s probably someone shoving a stack of faxes in your arms right now.
You need a distilled, quick primer — you need to get to that rover, hop in, and go. Because you may be holding your breath, since spacesuits are pretty hard to come by. So here you go: the distilled basics of Lunar Rover driving.
1. Forget everything you know about normal driving.
Actually, wait — don’t forget everything. Shit, I hope I’m not too late. Just forget the part about the physical controls of a car, because the Lunar Rover is different — it’s one of those joystick controlled cars. Actually, it might be the only actually successful joystick-controlled car ever made.
2. Sit down in either seat. Grab the T-shaped controller between the seats.
The main control stick on the Lunar Rover is that T-shaped handle in the very middle of the rover, between the seats. NASA calls this, cleverly, the ‘Hand Controller.’ But don’t be fooled — you’ll be using your hand to control it — it won’t control your hand. So relax.
The controller isn’t exactly like the little joystick from Pac-Man — but it’s pretty close. Tilt forward to go forward, tilt backwards for reverse, left to turn left, right to turn right. Easy! Now, you don’t always want to make the motors (four of them, one at each wheel) go in reverse, so check that switch on the base of the stick — that’s the reverse lockout. Down locks out reverse.
Now, to brake, you’ll be moving — or, as NASA likes to say, displacing, the whole stick assembly backwards. Pulling it all the way back will engage the parking brake, which is probably engaged for the Rovers you’ll find. So, if they don’t move, don’t panic — tilt the handle hard left to disengage the brake. If that doesn’t work, there’s a backup release below the handle, a little ring on a cable. Tug that, I guess.
3. The Instruments
The big box in front of the hand controller is roughly equivalent to your car’s dashboard: it has the speedo, the crude by useful nav system, and the on/off switches for the drive motors and whatnot. So before you take off in your Rover, you gotta turn stuff on — and I’m hoping the batteries have a charge still, because they’re not really rechargeable. So we’ll just hope.
Anyway, in the lower right corner, you’ll see switch panels for connecting each wheel motor to one of the two power buses — try both and see which ones give you a light. If both, great, just pick one. Next, look right to the lower right corner panel, and enable all drive motors to either PWM (pulse-width modulation) setting. That should get everything ready to roll.
Oh, but before you roll, you have to steer, too. There’s two separate steering systems, front and rear, and each has its own little motor — so use the lower left panel to turn the steering systems on.
There’s a little speedo in the upper right (in kph), a sort of compass in the upper left, and some odometers, sun-azimuth indicator, and other stuff. For your (hopefully) quick drive back to your ship or whatever, you may not need these, but who knows.
This old gyro-and-distance-based stuff is not as easy as glancing at your phone’s GPS-based map app — but remember, you won’t be near GPS service on the moon. So plan ahead. I suggest planting something tall and highly visible — a flag on a big whip antenna or something— wherever your earth-return vehicle is so you can have a visual target for driving. If you’re tracking distance with the odometer, remember — reverse travel increases distance just like forward.
Okay, so, let’s recap: hop in, flip all the power/enable switches to the wheel motors to on, disengage the parking brake, and, basically, tilt that control stick the direction you want to go!
Remember, you have about 1 HP total, but that’s at 1/6th gravity, so you won’t be that slow. Also, keep in mind there’s no paved roads, so keep an eye on the terrain, and take it easy! No one’s going to be chasing you, and just try and steer clear of any other rovers you may see.
So, good luck salvaging a Lunar Rover! When you get it back to earth, be sure to give us a shout so we can do a Classic Review of it!