Airless Wilds

The Lunar Rover and the Triumph of the Final Moon Landings

8:36 p.m. EST, December 12, 1972:

Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison "Jack" Schmitt braked to a stop alongside Nansen Crater, keenly aware that they were far, far from home. They had flown nearly a quarter-million miles to the man in the moon's left eye, landed at its edge, then driven five miles to this desolate, boulder-strewn hole. As they gathered rock samples, they strode at the outermost edge of man's travels. This place, this moment, marked extremes for a species born to wander.

     A few feet away sat the machine that made the achievement possible: an electric go-kart that folded like a business letter, weighed less than 80 pounds in the moon's reduced gravity, and muscled its way up mountains, around craters, and over broken plains on America's last three ventures to the lunar surface.

     In the decades since, the exploits of the astronauts on those final expeditions have dimmed in the shadow cast by the first moon landing. But Apollo 11 was mere prelude: while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin trod a sliver of flat lunar desert smaller than a football field, Apollos 15, 16, and 17 each commanded a mountainous area the size of Manhattan. All told, their crews traveled 56 miles, and brought deep science and a far more swashbuckling style of exploration to the moon.

     And they triumphed for one very American reason: they drove.

     Across the Airless Wilds puts the reader alongside the men who dreamed of driving on the moon and designed and built the vehicle, troubleshot its flaws, and strapped themselves into its seats. Shining a deserved spotlight on these overlooked characters and the missions they created, it's a celebration of genius, perseverance, and daring.