Men Riding On The Moon



Last Wednesday 6.00 pm. Lift-off of the Endaevour Shuttle from the Kennedy Space Center 220 miles north from where I live and work. I hear the news while driving in my South Florida city of Boca Raton. I feel that I am still one of the few Floridians still amazed by the technology involved, one of the rare persons still scrutinizing the sky to see it pass over me, I know exactly 5 minutes after lift-off. I immediately park and 5 minutes later, here it is passing high in the sky just above me,. I shoot an amateur picture. I still like to hear the very fainted vroom, this time imagining the 8 astronauts inside. How does it feel? Each time, I continue to wonder…

What I didn’t know is that on the other side of the Atlantic, in Germany (it was midnight local hour), globe-trotter motorcycle photographer/reporter and good friend Horst Roesler is also watching live on TV this shuttle1same Shuttle launch.  I will have to wake up Thursday morning and open my emails to know about it.  Horst just wrote “Cyril, I have a surprise for you”. I just reply “Waiting…”. The time of having coffee and a second email arrives with 7 attachments. While watching the launch Horst remembered his collection of old AMA magazines and in the middle of the night went straight to his collection looking for this AMA Cover dedicated to the first men walking on the moon. No, as you can see, riding on the moon! I am teased, so Horst also scan the article inside and email it to me. And I learned a lot of fascinating things…

First, that the Nasa’s Spacecraft Design Division in Houston Texas began work on what might be considered a mini-bike rider’s ultimate dream (for that time). Yes, engineers were convinced that the Apollo missions required a powered ground vehicle. They gave up first on a 4-wheeler considered too cumbersome because space on the landing craft was at a premium.  Instead, a 2-wheeler could thread through the rugged terrain. With no background in motorcycles, no trail riding experience they started to work on a moon motorcycle.

None of existing bikes could be used because of what they considered too poor handling characteristics on the moon. But how to computer design a brand new motorcycle without knowing exactly how was the moon’s surface?  Choice of tires was a major topic of discussion. They experimented with metal tires fearing that rubber tires would be prone to melting during the day and cracking at night. Also, inflating a rubber tire on the moon would present a serious problem. They experimented with very wide rubber tires! Inflating them in a vacuum chamber, tried to figure out atmospheric pressure changes, etc. They also calculated that frame & tires should not exceed 80 pounds. Next a 10-pound 5/8 horsepower electric motor, powered by a 30-ampere battery was fitted into the frame. Estimated top speed would be 7 mph.

Because of the lack of atmosphere in outer space, cooling for the motor & battery became a problem. Special motor brush and wire insulation material was designed to withstand heat extremes. The frame was designed to absorb part of the motor heat and 4 pounds of beewax was packed around the battery. When the frame would become too hot and the beewax too soft the bike would be stopped to cool.  Because of Astronauts suits, they thought that the best position for riding the moon bikes would be with the legs trailing behind for added stability! The throttle was designed so that instead of gripping the control the rider would simply insert his gloved hand into a pot-like device and twist.   

The machine completed, the Spacecraft Design Division began simulating the moon’s surface and gravity, learning than in a corner the Astronaut would have to lean 6 times as far. The motorcycle performed well and the Apollo crew accepted it  So, why they didn’t use it? At the same time a study on the 4-wheeled Rover had also progressed well. It was decided that one-man motorcycle excursions would be dangerous and that it was safer to go on a 4-weheler. Is there still a future for a moon motorcycle? Perhaps not in a too distant future. Who will conceive it? Who will be the first man riding on the moon? Friday night I went to sleep thinking that you should know this story and to tell you the truth I  fell asleep dreaming that I was the one…

3 Responses to “Men Riding On The Moon”

  1. 1 Grayhawk Jul 18th, 2009 at 1:44 am

    Fascinating, raisin pie to Horst and you and your team Cyril and all the others you know who you are.

    This simple but fascinating timely story shines the light on the continuous effort, time, and talent required and undertaken by the presenters, capturers and preservers of the event and sights. Anyone that has taken a camera along on a run and either missed the sight or didn’t get the right shot knows what I mean.

    Sometimes we take for granted all the hard work and effort undertaken by those of/in the motorcycle industry like Horst, Cyril, others that bring to our doorsteps if you will thru the articles, pictures, points and topics of interest and opinions and stories from the past that keep us up to date and reflecting by showing in timeless pictures and print the places we wanted to go and things we didn’t get to see first hand or just allowing us the opportunity to reminense a past expierence brought back to life by you guys and gals capturing and highlighting the expierences thru the lens, the canvas and the keyboard. Less not forgetting the crystal ball look into the future of the things and products to come.

    The recent postings on the Ladies of the Road and Artists of the Canvas and Imaging Lens contributions to the motorcycle world and this simple but telling story of you guys interfacing and your thought process brought it to mind and appreciation of the 24/7 effort it takes to keep us in the know and a party to the expierence.

    I for one appreciate the time, effort and talent it takes to do what you do. Kudos to all.


  2. 2 Brandon Jul 18th, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    Cool story Cyril.

  1. 1 Shuttle Launch | All Days Long Pingback on Jul 18th, 2009 at 3:10 am
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Cyril Huze