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Across the Airless Wilds: The Lunar Rover and the Triumph of the Final Moon Landings

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In this follow-up to the acclaimed New York Times bestseller Chesapeake Requiem, Earl Swift rediscovers the final three Apollo Moon landings, arguing that these overlooked missions—distinguished by the use of the revolutionary Lunar Roving Vehicle—were the pinnacle of human exploration.  The most enduring tire tracks in the universe lie not on any highway, remote desert tra In this follow-up to the acclaimed New York Times bestseller Chesapeake Requiem, Earl Swift rediscovers the final three Apollo Moon landings, arguing that these overlooked missions—distinguished by the use of the revolutionary Lunar Roving Vehicle—were the pinnacle of human exploration.  The most enduring tire tracks in the universe lie not on any highway, remote desert trail, or indeed anywhere on Earth. They are found on the Moon, where fifty-six miles of car tracks lie nearly perfectly preserved, etched into the lunar landscape almost exactly as they were left nearly a half-century ago. The ends of these trails mark the farthest extremes to which mankind has ventured, the limits of a species that was born to wander. The tracks were left by crews of the last three manned missions to the Moon—Apollos 15, 16, and 17. Over the decades since, the achievements of these astronauts have dimmed in the shadow cast by the first Moon landing, Apollo 11. But as Earl Swift brilliantly uncovers, in so many ways the earlier missions were but a prelude for the final acts; for while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin trod a chunk of flat lunar plain smaller than a football field, the final three Apollos each commanded a mountainous area the size of Manhattan—traveling miles across the broken, desolate lunar surface, conducting experiments, and collecting more than a quarter-ton of prized geologic samples. Often treated as little more than historical footnotes, they were the true explorers of the Moon. And they succeeded for one very American reason: they drove. So-called “Moon cars” had been the stuff of science fiction since before the Wright brothers flew. But it was only after World War II that engineers and scientists took up the challenge of how to move astronauts and equipment across extraterrestrial landscapes. The result was the Lunar Roving Vehicle—a true engineering marvel that was developed piecemeal through the late 1950s and 1960s, deployed on the final three Apollo missions, and revolutionized the exploration of the moon. In this fast-moving exploration of the lunar rover and the scientific discoveries it enabled, Swift puts the reader alongside the men who dreamed of the rover, designed it, troubleshot its flaws, and drove it on the lunar surface. Finally shining a deserved spotlight on these overlooked yet crucial missions and the fascinating characters involved in them, Across the Airless Wilds is a celebration of human genius, perseverance, and daring.


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In this follow-up to the acclaimed New York Times bestseller Chesapeake Requiem, Earl Swift rediscovers the final three Apollo Moon landings, arguing that these overlooked missions—distinguished by the use of the revolutionary Lunar Roving Vehicle—were the pinnacle of human exploration.  The most enduring tire tracks in the universe lie not on any highway, remote desert tra In this follow-up to the acclaimed New York Times bestseller Chesapeake Requiem, Earl Swift rediscovers the final three Apollo Moon landings, arguing that these overlooked missions—distinguished by the use of the revolutionary Lunar Roving Vehicle—were the pinnacle of human exploration.  The most enduring tire tracks in the universe lie not on any highway, remote desert trail, or indeed anywhere on Earth. They are found on the Moon, where fifty-six miles of car tracks lie nearly perfectly preserved, etched into the lunar landscape almost exactly as they were left nearly a half-century ago. The ends of these trails mark the farthest extremes to which mankind has ventured, the limits of a species that was born to wander. The tracks were left by crews of the last three manned missions to the Moon—Apollos 15, 16, and 17. Over the decades since, the achievements of these astronauts have dimmed in the shadow cast by the first Moon landing, Apollo 11. But as Earl Swift brilliantly uncovers, in so many ways the earlier missions were but a prelude for the final acts; for while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin trod a chunk of flat lunar plain smaller than a football field, the final three Apollos each commanded a mountainous area the size of Manhattan—traveling miles across the broken, desolate lunar surface, conducting experiments, and collecting more than a quarter-ton of prized geologic samples. Often treated as little more than historical footnotes, they were the true explorers of the Moon. And they succeeded for one very American reason: they drove. So-called “Moon cars” had been the stuff of science fiction since before the Wright brothers flew. But it was only after World War II that engineers and scientists took up the challenge of how to move astronauts and equipment across extraterrestrial landscapes. The result was the Lunar Roving Vehicle—a true engineering marvel that was developed piecemeal through the late 1950s and 1960s, deployed on the final three Apollo missions, and revolutionized the exploration of the moon. In this fast-moving exploration of the lunar rover and the scientific discoveries it enabled, Swift puts the reader alongside the men who dreamed of the rover, designed it, troubleshot its flaws, and drove it on the lunar surface. Finally shining a deserved spotlight on these overlooked yet crucial missions and the fascinating characters involved in them, Across the Airless Wilds is a celebration of human genius, perseverance, and daring.

30 review for Across the Airless Wilds: The Lunar Rover and the Triumph of the Final Moon Landings

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    ”But fact is, the greatest achievements of our lunar adventure came later, when the world was no longer hanging on every word the moon-walkers spoke or following every step they took, on missions that are recalled dimly today. In fact, you could argue that every earlier American venture into space was preparation for the last three trips to the moon.” Great book about the creation and use of the lunar rover on the moon. I was worried that the book might be too technical after reading some of the ”But fact is, the greatest achievements of our lunar adventure came later, when the world was no longer hanging on every word the moon-walkers spoke or following every step they took, on missions that are recalled dimly today. In fact, you could argue that every earlier American venture into space was preparation for the last three trips to the moon.” Great book about the creation and use of the lunar rover on the moon. I was worried that the book might be too technical after reading some of the reviews, but while it is definitely a deep dive into the engineering side of the space program, it was also very accessible and very well-told. Swift does a great job of setting up all the difficulties of trying to engineer a space car (1/5th gravity, unknown soil composition, driving inside a space suit, extreme temperatures) and then puts you along side the engineers as they work everything out. There is a lot of great space program history here as well, told from a different angle than you usually see it. In The Right Stuff you get the history of the space program told through pilots and personalities. Here you get the history of the program told through supply chains and government contracts. And it was just as fascinating to me. Some notes: - We talk now about how nobody cares about the moon anymore. And it’s true, but it’s not a new problem. Almost as soon as the Apollo 11 astronauts left the moon the Apollo missions became blasé. Funding started to dry up before the first rovers could even be built. Space cars that should have been given their own flights to the moon on their own special rocket ended up having to be designed in a way that they could be folded up under the leg of the lunar module. It ended up being a little go-kart instead of a car, but that made it’s accomplishments even more amazing once they actually got to the moon. - The Apollo missions were all geology missions first and foremost, but that only took place because they had to pick one field of science to focus the time and resources on and geology won out. But there were many who thought the missions should have been used to study the earth itself from a different viewpoint. Instead of sending geologists (and training pilots to be geologists) we would have sent astronomers and physicists. - Buzz Aldrin and Neal Armstrong almost ended the rover project before it really even got a chance to start. They came back from Apollo 11 and said it wouldn't work. All the engineers and experts in terramechanics who had spent decades on the idea thought it definitely would work, but in late 1969 there were only two real moon experts. And they had a lot of clout. - First part of this book has a great mini-biography of Wernher von Braun.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    Astounding History Of An Oft-Forgotten Era. One point Swift makes in this text is clear even in my own experience - *even as someone who has been to the NASA Cape Canaveral Visitor Center many times*: The era of Apollo after 11 and in particular after 13 is often forgotten in the zeitgeist. People talk about Armstrong and Aldrin all the time. People even talk about Lovell and Mattingly in Apollo 13 a fair amount (helped somewhat by the excellent and mostly realistic Tom Hanks movie and the fact Astounding History Of An Oft-Forgotten Era. One point Swift makes in this text is clear even in my own experience - *even as someone who has been to the NASA Cape Canaveral Visitor Center many times*: The era of Apollo after 11 and in particular after 13 is often forgotten in the zeitgeist. People talk about Armstrong and Aldrin all the time. People even talk about Lovell and Mattingly in Apollo 13 a fair amount (helped somewhat by the excellent and mostly realistic Tom Hanks movie and the fact that to this day, NASA sells quite a bit of "Failure Is Not An Option" merchandise). But after that particular era is when the "real" lunar science began. And for that, NASA needed another tool that got a fair amount of (slightly inaccurate) press back in the day, but whose story has never been quite so thoroughly documented as this particular effort by Swift. That tool was the lunar rover, aka the "moon buggy", and here Swift does an extremely thorough job of documenting the first inklings of an idea that it may be possible through the early history of American rocketry (while not hiding one iota from its roots in Nazi experimentation) through the conceptualization and manufacturing of the actual rover and even into its impacts on modern rover design, such as the newest Mars rover, Perseverance. The book does get in the weeds a bit with the technical designs and what exactly went into each, along with the various conceptual and manufacturing challenges of each. Similar to how Tom Clancy was also known to get so in the weeds about certain particulars from time to time, so Swift is in good company there. But ultimately, this is an extremely well researched and documented book that does a simply amazing job of really putting you right there as all of these events unfold, all the way to feeling the very dirt and grit the final men to walk on the moon experienced when they had certain cosmetic failures on the buggy... millions of miles away from being able to really do anything about it. Truly an excellent work that anyone remotely interested in humanity's efforts to reach outide of our own atmosphere should read. Very much recommended.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Pop Bop

    Wow. Just, Wow! The Lunar Rover didn't get to the Moon until Apollo 15. By then people were jaded enough about Moon landings that there hadn't been much mission coverage in the popular press; certainly nothing like the coverage of the first landing. But the Apollo 11 landing was really just the prelude to what would be the exciting and productive later landings. The real science was done on the last three Apollo missions. While the Apollo 11 astronauts wandered over an area considerably less than Wow. Just, Wow! The Lunar Rover didn't get to the Moon until Apollo 15. By then people were jaded enough about Moon landings that there hadn't been much mission coverage in the popular press; certainly nothing like the coverage of the first landing. But the Apollo 11 landing was really just the prelude to what would be the exciting and productive later landings. The real science was done on the last three Apollo missions. While the Apollo 11 astronauts wandered over an area considerably less than the size of a football field, the last Apollo mission astronauts actually explored the Moon, with the indispensable aid of the Lunar Rover. This book introduces the Rover, from conception to birth, and then takes you along with those explorers. The first third or so of the book gives you a good recap of NASA's entire manned spaceflight program, starting with Werner von Braun. Starting that far back wasn't strictly necessary for the purpose of telling the Rover story, but no harm done; it's still interesting. We conclude that section with a fairly crisp and concise outline of the engineering challenges that would be faced by the Rover dreamers and then the Rover designers. The second third of the book covers way more about the details, setbacks, and complications of the actual development and fabrication and delivery of the Rover than you'll ever need to know, unless you are a special fan of Grumman, Boeing, Bendix, and GM, or of government procurement contracts, or of the project managers who toiled on the lunar project. I have to admit to skimming a bit here, although there are interesting nuggets to be found. In any event it's worth it because the last third of the book is the big payoff. It takes you day by day, and almost hour by hour, through the final three Apollo missions. You ride the Rover, skip around craters, pick up samples, and get a true, authentic feeling for what the astronauts actually did on the Moon. You get to slip and slide and fishtail, and to huff and puff your way up and down crater rims and across pockmarked plateaus in search of shiny objects. On the Moon. Much of the tale is told with direct quotes from the astronauts drawn from Mission Control records, so you get a true, admittedly punched up, sense of "you are there!". All of this is presented in an engaging, congenial, and well paced style that is commanding but not intrusive; somehow the author manages to provide detail and deep information while sustaining a colorful narrative. Less than a textbook, but more than a fictionalized reimagining, this book hits the dead center sweet spot for popular science, and will get you looking back up at the Moon. (Please note that I received a free ecopy of this book without a review requirement, or any influence regarding review content should I choose to post a review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    Just when man landing on the moon was getting redundant, NASA introduced the Lunar Rover. It was the Rover that made exploration and science possible, but getting it there wasn’t easy. The first third of the book looks at the evolution of designing a lunar vehicle before it was ever a tangible prospect. We’re introduced to all the engineers that dreamed of how a vehicle would operate on the moon’s surface. The second part of the book details the actual development of the winning concept in a ver Just when man landing on the moon was getting redundant, NASA introduced the Lunar Rover. It was the Rover that made exploration and science possible, but getting it there wasn’t easy. The first third of the book looks at the evolution of designing a lunar vehicle before it was ever a tangible prospect. We’re introduced to all the engineers that dreamed of how a vehicle would operate on the moon’s surface. The second part of the book details the actual development of the winning concept in a very short amount of time. The deadline NASA set to get the Rover on Apollo 15 was one of the tightest they ever set for themselves (and Boeng, the contractor and GM the subcontractor). “In retrospect, the frenzied nature of the rover’s creation, and the hassles that NASA and its partners ran up against during those hectic months, serve only to underline the remarkable nature of the achievement.” We see the Rover in action in the final third and how the astronauts performed on it. Without it, they would never have gotten such a huge variety of samples to bring back to Earth. I would have liked to see a segment detailing some of the discoveries made from the samples obtained, but I guess that would take another book. This last section of exploration was certainly the most fun and fascinating. To build such a complex machine involves lots of mechanical design, and I’m certainly no engineer, but I can appreciate the efforts of the men who achieved it. “Including the price of development, each of those fifty-six miles,” driven on the moon by three Rovers, “cost something in the neighborhood of $680,000, or well over $4 million in today’s money.” Now I understand why the final three Apollo missions were so significant. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    Surprisingly interesting. I hadn't appreciated the importance of the lunar rover to moon exploration. And small details of the rover, such as its fender, turned out to be critical! I only wish that Swift had gone more into some of the technical details. (The notes at the end do have a few gems, though.) > the Sunset Crater area seemed an ideal lunar analog, and Cinder Lake especially so. Or it would be, with some modification. In July 1967 USGS crews dug forty-seven holes in the field, stuffed t Surprisingly interesting. I hadn't appreciated the importance of the lunar rover to moon exploration. And small details of the rover, such as its fender, turned out to be critical! I only wish that Swift had gone more into some of the technical details. (The notes at the end do have a few gems, though.) > the Sunset Crater area seemed an ideal lunar analog, and Cinder Lake especially so. Or it would be, with some modification. In July 1967 USGS crews dug forty-seven holes in the field, stuffed them with dynamite and fertilizer, and blew them into craters ranging from five feet to forty-three feet in diameter. When the dust and cinders settled, the holes were a match in size and placement for those on the moon’s Sea of Tranquility—a very specific area, five hundred feet square, that the Survey itself had recommended for the first Apollo landing. Three months later, the team added ninety-six craters to the original forty-seven, expanding the field to eight hundred feet on a side. > “One of the main lessons we learned here, just as a practical thing, was that when you look at a picture taken from overhead, you see all the craters on the moon,” Kestay said. “They’re just obvious.” He raised his voice over the sound of our crunching. “When you’re walking on the surface, you don’t see them.” > we passed a bright white rock resting on top of the cinders, then another chunk of light-colored stone that seemed out of place. “Sandstone,” Kestay said. “This particular patch was used as a final test of the astronauts’ geological understanding. The scientists seeded it with all sorts of rocks that put together a story that the astronauts were supposed to sort out, to figure out what was going on.” > The Survey built a third field an hour south of Flagstaff in February 1970, after it became clear that snow and northern Arizona’s winter cold rendered these first two unusable for several months a year. Again using dynamite, it blasted 362 overlapping craters into thirty-five acres of desert hardpan. Later in the year, fourteen new craters were added. Black Canyon, as the training ground was known, has disappeared without a trace. A subdivision occupies the spot today. > Science had been a stated aim of the lunar program from the start, but no one science had been identified as its focus. “You had astronomers and physicists who thought it would be great to be able to make observations from up there,” Kestay said. “Shoemaker said, ‘No. We’re doing geology.’ And there are places in history where a single individual’s force of will tips things.” > It was nowhere near NASA’s 400-pound target for both rover and SSE, however. In fact, it missed it by nearly 25 percent—LRV-1 alone weighed just over 464 pounds, and its deployment gear another thirty. The excess would, by Houston’s reckoning, cost the lunar module nearly ten seconds of hover > The rover’s instrument display included a hinged, triangular “sun shadow device,” essentially a sundial that, once unfolded, threw a needle-thin, precise shadow onto a graph etched into the panel’s face. Scott parked the rover so that it faced down-sun, and this reading gave Houston the information it needed to “zero in” the LRV’s navigation. Or most of it: The sun shadow device’s accuracy depended on the rover being perfectly level. A slight tilt to the right or left, or nose- or tail-high, threw off the angle of the sun to the sundial. So, attached to the console’s left side was a two-way gauge that displayed the rover’s angles of roll and pitch. > They were close to Hadley Base when Scott spied a chunk of black basalt sitting by itself on the light gray plain, so seemingly out of place that it brought to mind the rocks the Geological Survey had seeded among the craters at Cinder Lake. He wanted that rock—but knew that if he asked for permission to stop, Allen would turn him down: Mission Control wanted them back to set up the remote ALSEP array, which would take hours. Instead, he pretended he was having trouble with his seat belt. “Okay, we’re stopping,” Irwin said—then, catching on to his partner’s ruse, launched into a monologue about the small craters and rocks around them. Scott was back quickly. The rock would become known as the “seat belt basalt.” > In the weeks after the mission, the Marshall Center obsessed over the rover’s minor failures—in particular, the front steering glitch during the first EVA. … They never pinned it down. Houston, not quite so obsessive, blamed “MEF,” or mysterious evil forces. > Scott and Irwin spent eighteen hours and thirty-five minutes outside—impossible without the rover. They drove for just over three hours, during which they covered 17.25 miles. At one point, they ranged 3.2 miles from their lander. They brought back 170.4 pounds of samples. Millions of Americans watched the rover in action, and the media covered Falcon’s three-day stay with gusto. > For the second mission in a row, the LRV had lost half its steering for reasons unclear, only to have it return just as mysteriously. > “We gave a wide berth to the rim of that crater, because if you fell in, you wouldn’t be able to get back out,” Duke recalled. “You get down in a crater like that, and it sloughs. You can’t get traction. The angle of repose is such that if you try walking out, you keep sliding backward. We had to be very careful, because we had no rescue.” > As he was moving around the rover, Young passed too close to the right rear wheel, and either his suit or a hammer jutting from his shin pocket snagged the fender. With a spray of dust, its sliding extension snapped off. “There goes the fender,” he said. On the drive to Station 9, neither astronaut mentioned the effects of the missing piece, but they were pronounced. Without that few inches of fiberglass, the right rear wheel flung a steady arc of dirt over the rover and its passengers > mission commander Eugene Cernan would walk too close to the right rear wheel with a hammer sticking out of his shin pocket. And that a moment later he’d groan, “Oh, you won’t believe it.” It was a near-exact duplication of John Young’s misstep, only worse: Cernan had been out of the Challenger for only an hour and forty-one minutes; he and his lunar module pilot, Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, had barely started their mission. > It was when they dusted themselves off before reentering the lander that the full impact of the fender’s loss came home to them. Their suits were filthy. Dust filled their pockets, sweatered their backpacks, and had insinuated itself into the complex aluminum rings locking their gloves and helmets into place. Those rings could take only so much dust before they started seizing. And the stuff was both abrasive and so fine that it smeared: wiping it from their helmet visors scratched the delicate coatings, which threatened to play hell with visibility. Worst of all, it was only a matter of time before the rover’s dust-covered electronics melted down. > They were to take four laminated pages from their Geological Survey map package, and duct tape them into a single sheet measuring fifteen by ten and a half inches. Then they were to scavenge the clamps from the lunar module’s pair of hang-anywhere task lights, and use those to pin the maps to the fender. … Gene Cernan’s replacement fender for LRV-3, designed overnight by a team in Houston. Fashioned from Geological Survey maps, duct tape, and clamps, it wasn’t much to look at—but it worked > “The LRV was not a huge technical challenge. It was a timetable challenge. Every day, something would come up that threatened to make the schedule slip. “But you had a lot of people on this thing, all trying to get it done in seventeen months. And it all came together.” > I’ll admit that it took me awhile to “get” the harmonic drive, and I hope I’ve walked you through it effectively. If I’ve fallen short, I suggest you look up the Wikipedia page on “Strain wave gearing,” where you’ll find a simple GIF that puts the device in motion—and once you see that, it might make more sense. > Morea told me several times that he was concerned from the start that Boeing’s bid undershot the project’s actual expenses. The “Cost Chronology” indicates how concerned he was: it says that his office tried to keep $40 million as the project’s cost in its budgetary docs but was told by headquarters it couldn’t do that. Instead, in December 1969 it submitted a program operating plan estimate, or POP, of $32.2 million for the LRVs, which “represented a genuine concern for a probable cost escalation ... in the neighborhood of 50 to 60 percent of the prime contractor estimates.”

  6. 4 out of 5

    Susan Paxton

    Just as the common view of Egypt is informed by the popular belief that Egypt = the pyramids, King Tut, and Ramesses the Great (i.e. the Fourth Dynasty and the New Kingdom, a sliver of a vast sweep of history), so the common view of Apollo appears to consist of the Apollo 8 crew reading Genesis in lunar orbit, Neil and Buzz landing on the moon, and Tom Hanks saving the day aboard Apollo 13. Totally forgotten are the final three landings, the so-called "J missions" (each Apollo mission was assign Just as the common view of Egypt is informed by the popular belief that Egypt = the pyramids, King Tut, and Ramesses the Great (i.e. the Fourth Dynasty and the New Kingdom, a sliver of a vast sweep of history), so the common view of Apollo appears to consist of the Apollo 8 crew reading Genesis in lunar orbit, Neil and Buzz landing on the moon, and Tom Hanks saving the day aboard Apollo 13. Totally forgotten are the final three landings, the so-called "J missions" (each Apollo mission was assigned a letter denoting its type - for example A missions were the early unmanned flights of the Saturn V/CSM combination, B added the LM, still unmanned, G was Apollo 11, the H missions were Apollos 12-15, and the J missions were to feature extended exploration in both length and duration). The J missions carried a special addition to the lunar surface: a battery powered rover folded neatly into the side of the LM that, once deployed, would enable the astronauts to cover more territory with a lot less exhaustion. This book tells the remarkable story of the versatile Boeing/GM LRV. Earl Swift does a great job not only telling the full story, from early thoughts about rovers to actual manufacturer proposals to the lunar missions, but he also brings out the great personalities who were involved, and describes it all in a clear and accessible fashion - not an easy task where technology is involved. I think the book drags a tiny bit during the actual manufacturing phase of the rover, but it picks up again with vivid descriptions of the three lunar explorations that utilized the rover vehicle. The book is well organized, and is well illustrated with greyscale images in the body of the text and several pages of color plates. Anyone interested in the Apollo missions will enjoy this: I think this is the best book on the program since Andrew Chaikin's A Man on the Moon, and that's high praise.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alisa

    [Thank you Netgalley for the ARC.] I was drawn in by the cover (I love anything that has to do with space/lunar exploration), and by the book’s dreamy and poetic title. I soon realized that Across the Airless Wilds is much more substantial than that. Swift made me appreciate the tireless effort, long endeavor, and ambition of the thousands of people who made the initial moon landing – and subsequent explorations – possible. So many minds went into developing the lunar rovers even before anyone ha [Thank you Netgalley for the ARC.] I was drawn in by the cover (I love anything that has to do with space/lunar exploration), and by the book’s dreamy and poetic title. I soon realized that Across the Airless Wilds is much more substantial than that. Swift made me appreciate the tireless effort, long endeavor, and ambition of the thousands of people who made the initial moon landing – and subsequent explorations – possible. So many minds went into developing the lunar rovers even before anyone had any concrete knowledge of the moon’s surface. Yet, through trial, error, many failures, budget cuts, and years of development, the dream of making it to the moon was never abandoned (thanks in large part to the space race!). The author clearly did a great deal of careful research, including conducting interviews with some of the key figures of the space age. I learned a lot: one fact that unsettled me was how much NASA/moon exploration owed to the Nazi rocket engineers. Though their rockets (when aimed at cities) led to devastation and great losses of life, they also made it possible for the United States to beat the Soviets to the moon. Swift goes into great detail about the manufacture and development of the moon rovers. I never knew that there is a crater field in Arizona which was created to help astronauts navigate the lunar surface (road trip time?!). Though I felt that some of the chapters were bogged down in technical detail at times, I also saw the necessity of showing how much work and care went into the moon rovers. I truly enjoyed the chapters that detailed the astronauts’ exploration of the lunar surface; the author made it seem as though I were plodding through the lunar dust beside them. I finished this book at a significant time. A week from now (2/18/21), the Mars rover Perseverance will be touching down on the Martian surface. I know that this would not have been possible without the decades of scientific achievement that had gone into the execution of the lunar missions. I felt a little melancholy thinking that, though NASA missions have broadened their horizons so much since the 60s, we have not been back to the moon since those final rover explorations. Someday soon, I hope, we’ll be back for more visits.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Gary Schroeder

    In tales of the Apollo project, the Lunar Roving Vehicle is often an afterthought. The vehicle itself is not nearly as sexy as the Saturn rockets or Apollo spacecraft, but as a tool for the later explorations of the moon, it was no less important. In fact, without the "moon buggy", the scientific return of Apollo would have been greatly diminished. Eric Swift does a good job filling in one of the last missing gaps in the histories of Apollo that have been written in the last 30 years or so with In tales of the Apollo project, the Lunar Roving Vehicle is often an afterthought. The vehicle itself is not nearly as sexy as the Saturn rockets or Apollo spacecraft, but as a tool for the later explorations of the moon, it was no less important. In fact, without the "moon buggy", the scientific return of Apollo would have been greatly diminished. Eric Swift does a good job filling in one of the last missing gaps in the histories of Apollo that have been written in the last 30 years or so with his entertaining "Across the Airless Wilds." Important as this book is (and as interesting as certain parts of the rover's development are), it's slightly less fertile territory for a book than some of the other topics mentioned above. Swift covers a few of the personalities behind early thoughts on the mechanics of the lunar soil and how best to propel a crewed vehicle across it, along with early designs for a rover. (Should it be on tracks? On balloon wheels? A giant propulsive screw?) What's missing is drama. Not every historical tale is filled with drama and certainly, an author can't manufacture it. The story simply is what it is. So, to fill in, Swift relates quite a bit of information on the details of contract enforcement, cost overruns, and other themes of accountancy between the U.S. government via NASA and the contractors tasked with building the rover. Despite some chapters populated with less-than-thrilling details of this type, you'll come away with a greater appreciation for the extreme challenges of building a vehicle that had to work flawlessly in an unforgiving environment, fit within the tight confines of the lunar module, and weigh ridiculously little while doing it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Chandler

    An Apollo book dedicated solely to the development and performance of the lunar rover (LRV) used on the later lunar missions. I have looked through various old Apollo documents about the LRV for my day job, and this book, which sources many LRV engineers still alive added some interesting details. While most people think of names such as Armstrong, Aldrin, or von Braun when it comes to Apollo, we are introduced to lesser known people who made the lunar rover famous. Like Polish immigrant M.G. Be An Apollo book dedicated solely to the development and performance of the lunar rover (LRV) used on the later lunar missions. I have looked through various old Apollo documents about the LRV for my day job, and this book, which sources many LRV engineers still alive added some interesting details. While most people think of names such as Armstrong, Aldrin, or von Braun when it comes to Apollo, we are introduced to lesser known people who made the lunar rover famous. Like Polish immigrant M.G. Bekker, the father of the field of terramechanics. Or Hungarian-born Ferenc Pavlics, who developed the famous rover wire mesh wheels. In addition to the people, the development of competing rover designs and the final LRV bids was detailed in depth. It was very interesting seeing how the cost plus contract structure, thought to offer the proper incentives for projects with hard-to-estimate costs, was found to be very problematic. There's also plenty of detail of the operation of the rovers on their three missions. As someone who has read some of the transcripts from these missions, there might have been some editing done to the promote the positive attributes of the LRV and not some of the stability issues that were discovered. Still, a great mix of technical details and narrative.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    Simply put...excellent. If you have made it this far, you are obviously a space geek/hipster and are very much into the space program and the Apollo program specifically. Do yourself a favor and read this book. The author has taken what could be a very dry topic and made it extremely engaging. The author has an excellent writing style and intersperses the book with suspense, drama, and humor.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    Outstanding and absorbing history of the lunar rover used during the last three Apollo moon landings in 1971 and 1972, presenting the story from concept through design proposals, engineering, delivery and on to its successful use on the moon. Great read for space exploration fans, as it provides a detailed look at what at first seemed a sideshow to the moon landings, but was an essential tool that greatly enhanced the exploration and scientific achievements of the Apollo mission. Highly recommen Outstanding and absorbing history of the lunar rover used during the last three Apollo moon landings in 1971 and 1972, presenting the story from concept through design proposals, engineering, delivery and on to its successful use on the moon. Great read for space exploration fans, as it provides a detailed look at what at first seemed a sideshow to the moon landings, but was an essential tool that greatly enhanced the exploration and scientific achievements of the Apollo mission. Highly recommended!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    A book focused on the science and engineering of the last moon landings using the rover. Interesting but I felt the book was much more for engineers and scientists.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    Detailed and on point You can really find out what building the rover took, in terms of research, development and testing, what kind of people were involved and, ultimately, how difficult it was too correctly assess the lunar surface and build a machine for it. I enjoyed it a lot, and now that I've read it, i feel like I'm in the know regarding the LRV. It's like an extended museum trip, with a perfect guide and lots of time to muse about the lunar explorers... Detailed and on point You can really find out what building the rover took, in terms of research, development and testing, what kind of people were involved and, ultimately, how difficult it was too correctly assess the lunar surface and build a machine for it. I enjoyed it a lot, and now that I've read it, i feel like I'm in the know regarding the LRV. It's like an extended museum trip, with a perfect guide and lots of time to muse about the lunar explorers...

  14. 4 out of 5

    LeeAnn

    I was instantly drawn in by Swift's beginning at The US Space & Rocket Center. One of my favorite places to visit is the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, KS: a museum not unlike the one Swift visits at the start of this book. This book reads like a nostalgic travelogue. Each chapter is a new stop along a journey that leads to the moon and back again. (Swift's style, in fact, reminds me of Tolkien. Aren't we all on a journey?) Part of why I am so glad I got to read this ARC is my daughter's love of space I was instantly drawn in by Swift's beginning at The US Space & Rocket Center. One of my favorite places to visit is the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, KS: a museum not unlike the one Swift visits at the start of this book. This book reads like a nostalgic travelogue. Each chapter is a new stop along a journey that leads to the moon and back again. (Swift's style, in fact, reminds me of Tolkien. Aren't we all on a journey?) Part of why I am so glad I got to read this ARC is my daughter's love of space. Though she is now 20, and a dancer/choreographer, her dreams of space - the moon and Mars - permeates her sense of adventure in every step of her journey. Oh that all of us should be so enamored of the adventure! Did you watch the Pixar movie Up? This book gives me the same feeling! "Adventure is out there!" This book is set to debut in July. Though the ending sections are full of future promise ground down by the devastation of 2020-2021, I believe that with hope, the future dreams and adventures of the US Space Program will continue. For all who have grown up in the shadow of the moon, this book is for you.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lance Hillsinger

    Across the Airless Wilds by Earl Swift take the reader to the last three Apollo moon landings. An era where computers were still housed in large rooms, and the slide rule was common. The story Swift tells focuses on the lunar rover. The moon rover being a stunning example of American ingenuity with the brilliance of former Nazi turned NASA scientist Wernher von Braun as background story. The first third of Airless Wilds provides relevant background. For those too young to remember Apollo, the b Across the Airless Wilds by Earl Swift take the reader to the last three Apollo moon landings. An era where computers were still housed in large rooms, and the slide rule was common. The story Swift tells focuses on the lunar rover. The moon rover being a stunning example of American ingenuity with the brilliance of former Nazi turned NASA scientist Wernher von Braun as background story. The first third of Airless Wilds provides relevant background. For those too young to remember Apollo, the background Swift provides is particularly interesting. Even for the older generation, like your reviewer, this background information was informative and interesting. Roughly, the last third of Airless wind covers the rover in use and covers the post-Apollo world. This is, by far, the most interesting part of the book. The middle third, quietly literarily, covers the nuts and bolts of rover development. For many readers, the middle will be a little droll. This contractor had this idea. This other contractor had that idea. There is much discussion about the type of wheels to use on the rover. For the engineer-type, this discussion would be interesting. However, for many readers, several pages about wheels and other design issues will be rather tedious. Still, even with a slow middle, Across the Airless Wilds is a definite buy.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Casey

    A good book, presenting a history of the Lunar Rovers used on the last three of America’s missions to the moon. The author, journalist Earl Swift, provides an engaging and in-depth tale of the technology behind one the last great human exploration feats. The vehicle allowed astronauts to travel the “final mile,” putting them farther from home than any other explorer. The Rover’s development required a significant science and engineering project, across various fields. A project made more difficu A good book, presenting a history of the Lunar Rovers used on the last three of America’s missions to the moon. The author, journalist Earl Swift, provides an engaging and in-depth tale of the technology behind one the last great human exploration feats. The vehicle allowed astronauts to travel the “final mile,” putting them farther from home than any other explorer. The Rover’s development required a significant science and engineering project, across various fields. A project made more difficult as NASA and contractors worked against deadlines and major cost concerns. The story doesn’t end with the first Rover’s landing on the moon, the challenges they faced on their three lunar missions are covered as well. The result is a detailed history of a bureaucratic engineering challenge, told with the verve and engagement of a “will they do it” story. It is entertaining and educational at the same time. Swift’s extensive use of first person accounts only adds to the story. Highly recommended for anyone interested in space explorations and the challenges faced by those on earth to make them happen.

  17. 4 out of 5

    JK

    If you’re a big fan of the Apollo missions and this is certainly one book to add to your collection. Earl Swift has shed much-needed light on the overlooked missions of Apollos 15 to 17 through the exciting addition of a lunar roving vehicle. The book is extensively researched and well written. For my taste I was less interested in all the intricate details of the design development and contracting phases that take up the first 2/3 of the book. It wasn’t until the last third of the book that we If you’re a big fan of the Apollo missions and this is certainly one book to add to your collection. Earl Swift has shed much-needed light on the overlooked missions of Apollos 15 to 17 through the exciting addition of a lunar roving vehicle. The book is extensively researched and well written. For my taste I was less interested in all the intricate details of the design development and contracting phases that take up the first 2/3 of the book. It wasn’t until the last third of the book that we get to the actual experience of lunar rovers on the surface of the moon and the astronauts experience driving them. One of the most interesting parts of their experience was their ability to innovate an impromptu repair. And this may be a spoiler alert but I will say even duck tape went to the moon and can be used there.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Russell

    Excellent telling of the Apollo Lunar Rover's development and use on the moon's surface in the last three lunar missions. Swift spends the first part of the book exploring the history of moon vehicles, the use of which was envisioned very early. The middle section recounts the troubled development process, from selecting the best wheel design, chassis construction, and, the thing that almost killed the rover program, schedule and budget overruns. The final chapters tell about the astronauts' use Excellent telling of the Apollo Lunar Rover's development and use on the moon's surface in the last three lunar missions. Swift spends the first part of the book exploring the history of moon vehicles, the use of which was envisioned very early. The middle section recounts the troubled development process, from selecting the best wheel design, chassis construction, and, the thing that almost killed the rover program, schedule and budget overruns. The final chapters tell about the astronauts' use of the rover, which allowed them to carry heavy rock samples up to 5 miles from the lunar module, and gave them the ability to explore much larger areas and types of lunar geology than would have been otherwise possible. Though the rover's cost ended up more than double initial budget estimates, the expanded science it enabled was well worth it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kimberlee (reading.wanderwoman)

    A super informative book about how the LRVs (Lunar Roving Vehicles) were made and all the thousands of people and parties involved. What a crazy effort. Even I was stressed when reading some of it. For me personally I enjoyed the last half of the book more than the first half. The last half was more about construction and those who were actually using the rovers on the moon and their experience of not only the vehicle but their surroundings and what driving and walking on the moon was really lik A super informative book about how the LRVs (Lunar Roving Vehicles) were made and all the thousands of people and parties involved. What a crazy effort. Even I was stressed when reading some of it. For me personally I enjoyed the last half of the book more than the first half. The last half was more about construction and those who were actually using the rovers on the moon and their experience of not only the vehicle but their surroundings and what driving and walking on the moon was really like. As someone who has always wanted to be an astronaut, I really enjoyed this book and definitely recommend it to any other science nerds out there. Or for anyone interested in knowing about all the people (some politics) and the engineering that went into creating these moon cars.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    Interesting history of the development of the lunar rovers. Swift introduces us to the people and technology and explains the importance of the rovers for furthering our understanding of the moon. Memorable moments include the various proposed designs, the testing of the rovers, and the accounts of the rovers in use on the moon. Thanks to the publishers for digital and audio review copies; and thanks to LibroFm. The audiobook was nicely performed by Adam Verner, who kept my attention throughout. N Interesting history of the development of the lunar rovers. Swift introduces us to the people and technology and explains the importance of the rovers for furthering our understanding of the moon. Memorable moments include the various proposed designs, the testing of the rovers, and the accounts of the rovers in use on the moon. Thanks to the publishers for digital and audio review copies; and thanks to LibroFm. The audiobook was nicely performed by Adam Verner, who kept my attention throughout. Note that the audiobook does *not* come with a PDF of the photos, which is too bad--the visuals in the book really help bring the text to life.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jodie

    This one took me a while to finish. I was so happy to know that someone took the time to dig into the last missions to the moon because so many people stopped paying attention after 1969 and so many incredible things were discovered during the later missions. I love the space program and books on NASA, but to be honest, this one had spots that dragged for me. I would have liked more on the last moon landings and a little less on the construction specs on the rover. It was all well documented in This one took me a while to finish. I was so happy to know that someone took the time to dig into the last missions to the moon because so many people stopped paying attention after 1969 and so many incredible things were discovered during the later missions. I love the space program and books on NASA, but to be honest, this one had spots that dragged for me. I would have liked more on the last moon landings and a little less on the construction specs on the rover. It was all well documented in the book, but parts of it were a little dry for me. There is so much that happened in those last moon landings that the book could have focused more on them and a bit less on the designing of the rover itself. Glad someone took the time to put this all together though.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Gaucho36

    Wanted to like this more than I did. It is for sure “definitive” - if you want to know EVERYTHING about the lunar rover development and deployment history your ship has come in. I found the detail numbing at tines… reviewing every design change, every budget revision etc. On the plus side it is an engineering marvel - the constraints the designers had to work with and how they solved them reminded why I would not be a good engineer! The other plus is a reminder how crude the first moon missions we Wanted to like this more than I did. It is for sure “definitive” - if you want to know EVERYTHING about the lunar rover development and deployment history your ship has come in. I found the detail numbing at tines… reviewing every design change, every budget revision etc. On the plus side it is an engineering marvel - the constraints the designers had to work with and how they solved them reminded why I would not be a good engineer! The other plus is a reminder how crude the first moon missions were in terms of coverage and scientific learning… and how much the “Rover” changed that. Not my favorite but if you have a car person or engineer in your life this is likely to score high.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Irma

    I received this book from a Goodreads giveaway. First of all, the hardcover is beautiful, featuring in the front and back inside covers an image of the surface of the moon. This was a very insightful and engrossing background of the space race. I was particularly fascinated by the mini bios of the men involved, as they were all immigrants from Europe who had such faith that a journey to the moon was completely possible. There's many images throughout, both in b&w and color, which was a huge plus I received this book from a Goodreads giveaway. First of all, the hardcover is beautiful, featuring in the front and back inside covers an image of the surface of the moon. This was a very insightful and engrossing background of the space race. I was particularly fascinated by the mini bios of the men involved, as they were all immigrants from Europe who had such faith that a journey to the moon was completely possible. There's many images throughout, both in b&w and color, which was a huge plus. Overall, a recommended read for beginners and space geeks alike.

  24. 4 out of 5

    B.

    I won an ARC of this one in a Goodreads Giveaway. The book has an incredibly nostalgic feel to it, as though you're revisiting a well-loved place. This book will be appreciated by anyone who enjoys the golden age of space exploration and who still gets a bit starry eyed for anything relating to NASA. It's full of wonderful space facts, presented in a way that would be easy for even a kid with a love of space to follow. I won an ARC of this one in a Goodreads Giveaway. The book has an incredibly nostalgic feel to it, as though you're revisiting a well-loved place. This book will be appreciated by anyone who enjoys the golden age of space exploration and who still gets a bit starry eyed for anything relating to NASA. It's full of wonderful space facts, presented in a way that would be easy for even a kid with a love of space to follow.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    Won this book here and wasn't' expecting anything near what I experienced reading it. To some, trips to the moon are passé, the work that went into it is for rocket scientists. Well here you'll get the scoop on the thought processes, changing and fine tuning, until they got it right. It focuses on creating a moon rover. If you take the time to read this, you'll see just how amazing it was for them to actually succeed. I really enjoyed this read. Won this book here and wasn't' expecting anything near what I experienced reading it. To some, trips to the moon are passé, the work that went into it is for rocket scientists. Well here you'll get the scoop on the thought processes, changing and fine tuning, until they got it right. It focuses on creating a moon rover. If you take the time to read this, you'll see just how amazing it was for them to actually succeed. I really enjoyed this read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mike Grissom

    I’ve read several books on the Space Race and Moon landings, but this book covered new ground for me. It has a good mix of detail behind the concept to creation process of the lunar rovers yet with an underlying storyline of the ongoing space missions. In my opinion this helps gives context to the timeline and helps the reader almost hear the clock ticking on the Apollo 15 liftoff. Excellent book. Would definitely recommend. Full disclosure that I received an advance copy of the book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    John Nordin

    For those, like me, who lived through Apollo and will never get tired of learning about it comes a very detailed look at how the lunar rover was built and used on the moon. This is well done - we lean about several key figures who devoted themselves to the technology of off-road driving, the various proposals, the conflicted process of building and testing and then the superb performance on the last three landings with detailed discussions of its use on those missions.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    (Note I won this as a giveaway on Goodreads) This was an interesting look at the history of the LRV (lunar roving vehicle). The author tracks the development of the LRV from ideas before the space program began to the final drive on the moon. The book is filled with interesting facts and details without slowing down the story. If you're interested in the Apollo program and/or how you solve a challenging problem, this book is a solid read. (Note I won this as a giveaway on Goodreads) This was an interesting look at the history of the LRV (lunar roving vehicle). The author tracks the development of the LRV from ideas before the space program began to the final drive on the moon. The book is filled with interesting facts and details without slowing down the story. If you're interested in the Apollo program and/or how you solve a challenging problem, this book is a solid read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Amy Walton

    Another excellent read by the great Earl Swift! I do not have an engineering mind, but I had no problem understanding the author's clear descriptions of the mechanics of the LRV. The history of space travel in the US and the chapters on the vehicles' lunar explorations are fascinating. And those mountains on the moon? Whoa! I'd no idea how tall some are. Bravo! Another excellent read by the great Earl Swift! I do not have an engineering mind, but I had no problem understanding the author's clear descriptions of the mechanics of the LRV. The history of space travel in the US and the chapters on the vehicles' lunar explorations are fascinating. And those mountains on the moon? Whoa! I'd no idea how tall some are. Bravo!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cathy

    Across the Airless Wilds is a detailed testimony to human ingenuity and the engineering process that really appealed to the science teacher in me. This book is not a fast read, but Swift's detailed research and personal interviews make it a fascinating read. I can't wait to follow up with personal research of my own. Across the Airless Wilds is a detailed testimony to human ingenuity and the engineering process that really appealed to the science teacher in me. This book is not a fast read, but Swift's detailed research and personal interviews make it a fascinating read. I can't wait to follow up with personal research of my own.

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