Vintage Space on NASA’s Plans for a Worm-Shaped Lunar Rover

Vintage Space is a YouTube channel specialising in space history, hosted by Amy Shira Teitel, who has written two books on the subject. One of these is about the two women, who struggled to get women into space. In this video, however, she talks about the plans one of NASA’s contractors, Astraneutics, drew up in the early years of the Moon programme for a lunar rover based on worms and snakes. At the time it was not known what the surface of the Moon was really like, and there were fears that the dust would be too deep to support a conventional vehicle. NASA handed the problem to one of their contractors, who believed that worms and snakes offered the best solution to the problem. These animals are able to move by distributing their weight and so a vehicle shaped like them would be able to move across the surface without sinking into the dust. There was also the advantage that such a rover would have no exterior moving parts. Teitel discusses the various designs for these rovers and the types of locomotion. There were three of these, one involving a simple process of expansion and contraction like a bellows, another walking on ridges around the vehicle and so on. The third type of locomotion was the most efficient, and would have allowed the rover to move at around 5 mph for several hundred miles. It would also contain a habitat for the astronauts. One of the designs therefore looks like a large, white worm with a single enormous eye at the front. The project was cancelled when a probe, Surveyor 4, landed on the Moon and showed that the layer of dust wasn’t very deep and that such eccentric vehicles would not be needed.

It’s an interesting piece of space history, and while I think it would have been difficult and expensive to build the worm rover in practice, as compared to the lunar rover which was used, I’m also a bit disappointed that it wasn’t built. Because artistically, it looks like a great, fun machine. You can imagine what it would have looked like with a number of these crawling slowly across the lunar regolith.

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4 Responses to “Vintage Space on NASA’s Plans for a Worm-Shaped Lunar Rover”

  1. trev Says:

    Sounds like that legendary/mythical (?) creature that’s supposed to inhabit the Gobi desert.

  2. Brian Burden Says:

    I can understand why they predicted thick dust on the lunar surface. Any explanation forthcoming for its absence?

    • beastrabban Says:

      I did know at one time, but I’m afraid I really can’t remember. The issue came up a while ago in a debate over the age of the Earth. It was argued that the Earth couldn’t be billions of years old, because if it was, the dust on the Moon would be much thicker. There is a proper scientific explanation, but all I can remember about it now is that Richard Dawkins reviewed the book with his customary diplomacy and restraint, calling the author a ‘fruitcake’.

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