A German-based science group plans to land the first privately funded lunar rover on the surface of the moon to visit the historic Apollo 17 landing site and video the NASA preservation heritage area.
Using an Audi-designed lunar rover, the Berlin-based PTScientists group plans to take video of the buggy NASA left behind 45 years ago, the last time humans walked, and drove, on the moon.
The team is participating in the Google Lunar XPrize, a race to land the first privately financed lunar rover on the moon, drive 0.3 miles on the lunar surface, and send back HD video to Earth. The team will receive extra points for taking video of the Apollo 17 landing site, Karsten Becker, the team’s rover driver, told New Scientist.
“Has it been ripped to shreds by micrometeorids, or is it still standing there like on the day they left? This is scientifically a very interesting site for us.”
PTScientists is one of 16 teams still competing for the $30 million Google Lunar XPrize. The first team to land on the lunar surface wins $20 million with $5 million going to second place while extra money will be awarded for visiting Apollo sites, detecting water ice, or travelling extra distance.
The team has finished designing their Autonomous Landing and Navigation Module (ALINA) and has now secured a ride on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in late 2017 or early 2018 thanks to launch broker Spaceflight Industries.
NASA guidelines ask anyone visiting the Apollo 17 preservation heritage area to land at least one mile away and not approach within 650 feet.
PTScientists plan to land 1.5 miles to 2.5 miles away in the moon’s Taurus-Littrow valley and study the condition of the Apollo 17 moon buggy to determine how the vehicle has survived the last 45 years of long-term exposure.
The group also wants to repeat gravity measurements made by the Apollo 17 astronauts, grow a plant in a container, and test 3D printing technology on the lunar surface, Karsten Becker told Space.com.
“There is a reason we have chosen the Apollo 17 landing site. That is because the Taurus-Littrow valley is geographically very interesting, that is why it was chosen for Apollo 17, but it is also a very well documented site. There are many pictures where you can see that it is very flat, and that there are not that many stones laying around.”
The group has been endorsed by Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt with one condition, PTScientists told Space.com.
“Cernan said the team is not allowed [to] beat the lunar speed record he set while on the moon!”
The team’s Audi lunar quattro rover is built from high strength aluminum and outfitted with three cameras, a swiveling solar panel, and 360 degree rotating tires with a top speed of 2.2 mph.
The Apollo 17 lunar buggy was designed with a top speed of 8 mph and Cernan was recorded driving 11.2 mph, so the moon land-speed record isn’t in danger of being broken, Audi project director Ulrich Schwarze told Space.com.
“We’re more used to designing cars on Earth, but when we heard what the PTScientists were planning, we wanted to support them by sharing some of the knowledge we have built up over decades of vehicle design and manufacturing.”
If everything goes as planned, the private moon mission will be the first time humans have been able to observe the lunar equipment left behind by Apollo 17 astronauts. It will also finally prove NASA did land on the moon and silence the moon truther conspiracy theorists, PTScientists told CollectSpace.
“If we succeed, we’ll have done something that previously only governments have been able to do. We want our mission to inspire others.”
Will the private lunar mission finally silence critics who say NASA never went to the moon?
[Featured Image by NASA]