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GM Looks Back on Its Development of the Apollo 15 Lunar Rover

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GM's role in creating the advanced space technology is still influencing its electric vehicle lineup 46 years later

To boldly go where no automaker has gone before

Among of the most  highly-discussed vehicles on the market right now is the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV. Chevy’s latest project in the realm of electric motor models is quickly becoming one of the most popular electric cars in the industry.

Of course, the Bolt is not General Motors’ first foray into electric power. Long before the Bolt or Volt, GM helped design the electric moon rover for the Apollo 15 mission.

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In 1971, NASA planned to have a team of American astronauts land on the moon for the fourth time. During this mission, the space-based organization wanted to provide its team with a highly-advanced lunar rover.

To help develop this rover, NASA turned to Boeing and GM for assistance. The American automaker had never undertaken a project like this before. However, when NASA comes to you with a challenge, you answer the call.

The Apollo 15 Lunar Rover in action

The design team had to work at a lightning-fast pace to have the rover ready in time for the mission. And due to the interstellar environment of the moon, it also had to consider several unknown variables.

“When our team began engineering for the Lunar Rover, there were so many unknowns, including varied terrain, extreme temperatures and the effect of reduced gravity,” explained Ferenc Pavlics, the project’s chief engineer. “We pushed the boundaries of automotive technology and worked hand in hand with the astronauts on the vehicle’s design.”

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By the end of the project, Pavlics and his team had developed a collection of new vehicle technologies for the rover. These included an electric motor drive system and unique controls that were adapted for the astronauts to use while wearing lunar gloves.

On July 26, 1971, the rover went up into space along with mission commander David Scott and pilots James Irwin and Alfred M. Worden. The lunar rover was such a success that similar models were also used during the Apollo 16 and Apollo 17 missions.

While the rover’s 57 miles of range might not be quite as wide-reaching as the Bolt’s 238 miles of electric range, it was still one small step for a rover and one giant leap for electric vehicles everywhere.