Looking Back at NASA’s Strange Mobile Lunar Laboratory

Unfortunately, the odd-looking MOLAB remained earthbound

MOLAB in Hopi Buttes (1967) USGS

Once upon a time, NASA had big plans for the Moon. Really big. Gizmodo reports that back in the early 1960’s NASA commissioned General Motors to build the MOLAB, a mobile geological laboratory that would have allowed astronauts to live and work away from a planned lunar base for up to two weeks, collecting samples and learning more about the composition of the Moon. 

According to GM, "In the ramp-up to lunar exploration, NASA’s Marshall Flight center proposed a mobile laboratory that could provide a “shirt-sleeve” work environment for astronauts." 

MOLAB was able to travel up and down steep slopes and had a top speed of 21 miles per hour. Unfortunately, MOLAB was grounded, along with dreams of a permanent lunar base as NASA’s priorities shifted. Thankfully, though, the bizarre vehicle didn't go to waste, says GM: "The ovoid vehicle looked like a prop from “Lost in Space," but the vehicle never set foot on the moon. Instead, under the “Mobile Geological Laboratory” moniker, it was used as a geological survey vehicle by the U.S. Geological Survey."

If it had made it up to the Moon, MOLAB surely would have done some good. Only one geologist ever set foot on the moon, Harrison H. "Jack" Schmitt, who participated in the Apollo 17 mission, though other astronauts received geology training before they embarked on their missions.  

Though MOLAB was scrapped in 1968, it’s spirit lives on in Curiosity, the unmanned Mars rover that basically contains a geology laboratory. As seems to be the way with the march of technology, Curiosity is much like MOLAB, but minitaturized and automated. 

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