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This lunar rover prototype dating back to the 1960s is coming up for auction this week. Half a century ago it was a running vehicle, and it was driven by the famous rocket scientist Wernher von Braun. Developed by Brown Engineering for NASA, it was used for mobility tests and evaluations, before ending up for sale and bought by a scrap metal dealer.
Having been lost for decades, the Brown LSSM or Local Scientific Survey Module seen here has been confirmed authentic by Otha Vaughan, a member of von Braun's team. According to Vaughan's testimony the prototype, which ran on commercially available truck batteries, represented an important step in the design of the rovers used on the Apollo program. The closest it got to the moon was riding in the KC-135 Zero G experimental aircraft, to evaluate how it would behave in zero gravity.
Test Drive: Astronaut Eugene Cernan recounts his ride on the moon
After development carried on, NASA and auctioned off the LSSM prototype. Consequently, it spent decades sitting at a backyard in Alabama – a fall from grace after playing such a pivotal role in the space program. Later on, a US Air Force historian noticed the rover laying dormant and reported it to NASA. As it was believed to be eventually destroyed, the documents included with the prototype declare, "Since the LRV is no longer available for recovery, this matter is closed in the files of this office. No further action will occur." Currently the very much intact, although rusty, prototype remains in Tennessee.
It will be interesting to see what kind of price the LSSM will command as it goes under the hammer at the Space and Aviation auction by RR Auction, which begins tomorrow. Bidding is estimated at $125,000 - 150,000 despite its rough condition, and it remains to be seen whether it will be restored or left in the state in which it was found.
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