Astronauts of the Apollo 17 mission made the most epic road trip of all time – on the Moon – in 1972. Astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt covered a distance of just over 35km on the lunar surface on an all-electric Lunar Rover, or moon buggy, as it was called.
Diaries and notebooks of astronauts on the Apollo 17 mission were released to the public, 45 years, almost to the day, since the mission ended. Schmitt was the last man to walk on the Moon and along with his teammate, Cernan, was also the last person to drive on the Moon.
A report by Jalopnik (JN) has revealed that this road trip lasted 4 hours and 26 minutes. Granted, there was no traffic, but the Moon is also not a really nice place to drive on.
To make the trip, which was mostly on a dusty and uneven terrain, they needed a vehicle that was up for the job. On Earth, any off-roader could have handled similar terrain with relative ease, but on the Moon, things are different.
Apart from the obvious lack of air and low gravity on the Moon, the dusty lunar surface could not have been easy to drive on, considering the heavy equipment and space suits that the astronauts were wearing.
The route that they took on the Moon, when superimposed on a map of Manhattan is quite impressive. It helps one visualise how much distance was covered and even the seemingly short route of 35.7 km seems quite formidable.
Starting at the Upper East Side, the buggy drove down to the Lower East Side. Moving back up toward Chelsea, past the USS Intrepid, all the way to New Jersey and then cut across Central Park. The report in JN notes that this trip today on the NY subway would take a whole day to complete.
Just like any good road trip, there was an accident on the way that even caused a bit of an annoyance to the astronauts. An excerpt from the mission transcript describes how a hammer in Cernan's pocket got caught in the buggy's right rear fender and ripped it out. This caused a lot of dust to be kicked around on and over the astronauts' suits and equipment to the point where they had to store them in separate bags after they got back into the lander. Getting the suit off and into bags got their hands dusty and since they had nowhere to clean up, the dust apparently got everywhere.
Apollo 17 returned with more than 200 pounds of rocks. The buggies are still on the Moon, and will stay there forever, notes Nasa.