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In this follow-up to the acclaimed New York Times bestseller "Chesapeake Requiem," Earl Swift rediscovers the final three Apollo Moon landings, arguing that these overlooked missions — distinguished by the use of the revolutionary Lunar Roving Vehicle — were the pinnacle of human exploration.
The most enduring tire tracks in the universe lie not on any highway, remote desert trail, or indeed anywhere on Earth. They are found on the Moon, where fifty-six miles of car tracks lie nearly perfectly preserved, etched into the lunar landscape almost exactly as they were left nearly a half-century ago. The ends of these trails mark the farthest extremes to which mankind has ventured, the limits of a species that was born to wander.
The tracks were left by crews of the last three manned missions to the Moon — Apollos 15, 16, and 17. Over the decades since, the achievements of these astronauts have dimmed in the shadow cast by the first Moon landing, Apollo 11. But as Earl Swift brilliantly uncovers, in so many ways the earlier missions were but a prelude for the final acts; for while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin trod a chunk of flat lunar plain smaller than a football field, the final three Apollos each commanded a mountainous area the size of Manhattan — traveling miles across the broken, desolate lunar surface, conducting experiments, and collecting more than a quarter-ton of prized geologic samples. Often treated as little more than historical footnotes, they were the true explorers of the Moon. And they succeeded for one very American reason: they drove.
So-called "Moon cars" had been the stuff of science fiction since before the Wright brothers flew. But it was only after World War II that engineers and scientists took up the challenge of how to move astronauts and equipment across extraterrestrial landscapes. The result was the Lunar Roving Vehicle — a true engineering marvel that was developed piecemeal through the late 1950s and 1960s, deployed on the final three Apollo missions, and revolutionized the exploration of the moon.
In this fast-moving exploration of the lunar rover and the scientific discoveries it enabled, Swift puts the reader alongside the men who dreamed of the rover, designed it, troubleshot its flaws, and drove it on the lunar surface. Finally shining a deserved spotlight on these overlooked yet crucial missions and the fascinating characters involved in them, Across the Airless Wilds is a celebration of human genius, perseverance, and daring.
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