NASA’s historic and pioneering Apollo space program for manned exploration of the moon isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think about augmented reality solutions for the automotive industry. But it turns out that it can offer some important insights about what remote experts can accomplish.
Most people know about the tale of Apollo 13 – and the heroic work that both astronauts and ground crew did to get them home when an on-board oxygen tank blew up in mid-flight (on April 13, 1970) and the team had to improvise a solution to get the astronauts home.
Less well-known is the story of the first and only remote car repair to have taken place on the moon. It’s an early example of how “remote experts” can help troubleshoot problems thousands of miles away.
It all started on December 11, 1972 during the Apollo 17 mission – when the right rear fender of the Apollo 17 Lunar Roving Vehicle was damaged when a hammer in the space suit pocket of astronaut Gene Cernan hit the edge of the back right tire’s fender extension during exploration at the Taurus-Littrow landing site on the moon.
There were a great many really unique things about this. First of all, astronauts had brought their own two-wheeled vehicle to the moon (known affectionately as the “moon buggy”). Secondly, the crew included a geologist (Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, who is the only scientist to have walked on the moon) keen to gather data from the moon’s surface.
Thirdly, a busted rear fender on the moon was able to cause a lot more trouble than you would expect – as the low gravity (one-sixth of Earth’s gravity) and the lack of air resistance – meant that a lot more dust and rocks than planned were kicked up by the now fender-less back right tire. It required the astronauts to regularly stop and dust off the lunar dirt.
In a transmission back to mission control, Gene Cernan affirmed just how problematic this issue was. “I guess you can’t appreciate it until you see it happen yourself,” he said of the problem. “That – that dust without that fender is just almost unacceptable.”
Even worse, the presence of a lot of lunar dust on both the astronaut’s space suits and the lunar buggy’s instruments was going to potentially going to make the mission both harder and less safe. The answer lay in getting some remote expert help.
Experts at mission control gathered together all the materials that the astronauts had with them on the moon – and figured out a solution that would get them back on the road quickly.The answer lay in duct tape and lunar surface maps, which mission control realized could be used to fashion a new makeshift lunar bumper on the moon.
“Hey, we spent some time on this – fender problem and worked out a pretty simple-minded procedure, which involves essentially taking four of those chronopaque pages out of your lunar surface maps, ones which are not going to be used for discussing the site, taping them together with gray tape,” explained Mission Control.
“You end up with a piece of paper about 15 inches by 10-1/2 inches, and then using the AOT (Alignment Optical Telescope) lamp clamps, preposition them full opened, and taking them out, and taking that piece of paper out, laying it on top of the fender guide rails and – and clamping the edges of it with the AOT lamp clamps. It’s simple and straightforward, and the beauty of it is you’re only spending about 2 minutes in the clamping operation.”
That was it. The remote expert team came up with a great solution – and it worked! For more on this pioneering example of the power of using remote experts, enjoy this great story on the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum web site.
And know that this example provides a great illustration of how remote experts – now much more accessible at a far, far lower price through the use of augmented reality technology – can make a huge difference in any automotive repair scenario.
In the final part of this series, we look at how to make a business case for an Augmented Reality (AR) solution.