The Maligned Moon Rickshaw

While researching a problem I ended up down an unexpected side trail in space history.

Our new launch site has fewer roads which means longer hikes to retrieved the landed balloon vehicle. The hike in is the easy part. Carrying the twenty three pound balloon vehicle back out is the awkward part.

The idea: We need a wagon.

Now before you say it, a lot of this area is motor vehicle restricted, so no quads and we just can’t afford that helicopter yet.

I knew that one Apollo missions carried a “rickshaw” to the moon to carry equipment but that it didn’t work. I decided to look it up, see what was wrong with it and go from there. Why would you look to the moon to build a wagon? Hey! we’re space geeks.

The moon rickshaw was actually named MET for Mobile Equipment Transport and it flew to the moon on Apollo 14. Every reference talks about just how bad it was. The most repeated line is “it was so poor it was easier for the astronauts to carry than pull”. I downloaded the assembly drawings and even the original NASA manual. Hmm, It looked pretty good, what was wrong with it?

Then it happened, I saw a video with Astronaut Alan Sheppard bouncing and running with the MET bounding behind him on the moon. He was going on and on about how great it was. “Wait a second”, I thought. They said MET was a disaster. What’s the real story?

I read reports written by the astronauts and all the transcripts from the lunar surface. A different tale emerged. They loved their little wagon.

The negative story came from Apollo 14′s last day on the moon.

The astronaut’s last task was a long climb up the side of a crater. Up on the crater wall things got pretty rough. It was a steep slope with deep dust and huge boulders. This was far more than the MET was design for. It became clear that the MET was wasn’t going to roll through the deep dust. The MET still stepped up and saved the day. There was too much equipment that was needed for the crater’s rim to leave behind. The astronauts got on each side of the MET turning it into a basket. Up to the crater they went and successfully completed the mission.

Blame it on sound bites. The MET being hard to use in deep dust was the story that stuck.

I love actually this. A cool piece of tech that’s been discarded by history and it just waiting for me to take advantage of.

Our MET has forty-eight inch diameter wheels. The whole thing only weights 13 pounds and made of Styrofoam.We traded weight for durability. The wheels on the MET 2 are only good for fifty miles in rock and brush. However that is more than we need. We’re putting an umbrella mount on the handle so we can hike in the shade.

The original engineers and techs that worked on the MET have been done a disservice. They created a great piece of gear that did a great job on another world.

We’ve named our foam, tape and carbon creation the MET 2 in their honor.

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