Scott's first Science

A drive in the moon

Apollo 15 Lunar Module Pilot James Irwin salutes the U.S. flag.   | Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

If Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space and Svetlana Savitskaya was the first woman to perform a spacewalk, then David Randolph Scott also has a first of his own. For Dave Scott was the first person ever to drive a vehicle on the surface of the moon.

Following his graduation from the U.S. Military Academy, Scott started his career in the Air Force. He trained as a test pilot in California after obtaining his masters degree in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. By 1963, he was part of the third group of U.S. astronauts chosen by NASA.

Marked for success

Scott, along with commander Neil Armstrong, manned the flight of Gemini 8. The spacecraft’s thruster got stuck open due to an electrical failure, causing it to tumble uncontrollably at a dangerous rate. This meant that the mission had to be aborted after Armstrong finally reestablished control. The mission might have been a failure, but both men on the spacecraft were destined for success.

In 1969, months before Armstrong became the first man on moon, Scott served as command module pilot of Apollo 9. With Scott at the controls, this mission featured the first docking between the command module and the lunar module, apart from testing all the systems that would be necessary for a lunar landing.

Science first

In his last flight on July 26, 1971, Scott, along with Alfred Worden and James Irwin, were launched on the Apollo 15 flight, destined for moon. They landed on the moon’s surface three and a half days later, with Scott focussed on his objective of putting science first.

They did site surveys, putting in practice hours of geology training done in preparation of the mission. They collected plenty of rock samples, including one of the most famous such rock found. Dated at 4.5 billion years old, the ‘Genesis Rock’ is one of the oldest rocks in human hands, and is believed to be only 100 million years younger than the solar system.

At the end of the last Apollo 15 moon walk, Scott performed a live demonstration of the hammer-feather drop experiment for television cameras. He dropped a geological hammer and a falcon feather at the same time, and they fell at the same rate as they were essentially in a vacuum and there was no air resistance. The results were reassuring as they were predicted by the long-standing well-established theories provided by Galileo centuries ago.

Despite these successes, some of the most iconic images from this mission were that of the Lunar Roving Vehicle. The LRV was unpacked and ready to go shortly after landing and it was Scott who had the honour of driving it first up, thereby becoming the first person to drive on the moon.

The LRV was used extensively, as the crew spent over 17 hours totally outside their lunar module. It allowed them to get farther afield than in previous missions, and they covered about 28km by driving the LRV. They returned to earth a week later on August 7, never to experience a drive like it again…


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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 5:14:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/in-school/sh-science/A-drive-in-the-moon/article14545825.ece

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