There Were Almost Jet Packs On The Moon

Here it is almost 2022 and we still don’t have our jet packs. But don’t feel bad. NASA astronauts wanted a lunar jetpack, but they didn’t get one either. [Amy] at The Vintage Space has an interesting video about what almost was, and you can see it below.

Of course, a jet pack on the moon would be easier than an Earthbound one. The goal was to allow the crew to range further from their lander since they couldn’t carry very much and the lander didn’t have a lot of consumables, either. In addition, if you lost sight of the lander, getting back could be a problem since navigating on the moon was an unknown skill.

In 1969 awarded exploratory contracts for lunar personal flying vehicles including one to Bell who had their Earth-bound jet pack that shows up every so often for example in Bond movies.

The jet pack didn’t look so much like we’d imagine a jet pack would look. It was more like a tiny flying vehicle you stood on, but let’s not split hairs. It still would have been a very cool ride. The Bell version would have cost about $30 million in 1969 dollars, so it wouldn’t have been a cheap ride either.

The other contractor was Rockwell, who had more of a — there’s no other way to describe it — flying chair. Of course, the actual solution to this was the lunar rover — proving that Americans really like having their own car wherever they go. The rover did allow the crew to get further away from the lander, but it wasn’t as cool as the jet packs that never were.

We still hear about people with jet packs, but we don’t have one. One advantage to the Bell design was that, in an emergency, it could return the crew to the orbiting command module. It turns out, that idea didn’t die with the jet pack, but the Lunar Escape System was also never built.

21 thoughts on “There Were Almost Jet Packs On The Moon

  1. The opening of Jonny Quest episodes had something like this. I think an episode had something too, but slightly differrent.

    Tom Swift or Tom Corbett had them too. So I suspect they were also in mature science fiction.

    Major Matt Mason had a space sled, a flat piece with handle bars

  2. I had very fond memories of Johnny quest until I watched them again as an adult and found they were kind of like Scooby-Doo where it’s the same story every week with just different names and places. But the idea that there was a smart guy who was so important that Race would protect him at all costs was pretty attractive for a nerd kid.

    1. Race: “I don’t know Doctor, but I used to be pretty good at this sort of thing!”
      (Then Race does the nearly impossible, like a boss.)
      He was the Johnny Quest version of Mary Sue.

    2. I don’t think I saw Jonny Quest originally. I guess it didn’t air in Canada. I remember ads in comic books, for the show but also for his sneakers, which I wanted.

      So I bought the DVD set some years back. I was impressed by the range of adventures, there was some level of thought to them, even if some had no explanation. I didn’t find it repetitious, and I watched all of them in a week. The style of animation did mean repetition.

      Scooby Doo always had the same premise, someone dressing up (though the costumes were great) to get something, and always the reveal at the end.

      I got Space Ghost on DVD. That’s repetitious, nothing really different from episode to episode.

      After I got the Jonny Quest set, I found some Rick Brant boojs, which I’d not heard of before. That series is like Jonny Quest, a scientist father travelling around, accompanied by his teenage son, and a bodyguard.

    3. Not to mention the astounding (to modern sensibilities) sexism. I think no females appear until about the fourth episode, and she was a polar bear.

      I probably don’t qualify as a feminist, but, wow, shows from the 60s can be grossly chauvinist.

      1. The remake series (I have no idea when, 20 years ago?), did have a girl along with Jonny and Hadji, I never bothered to finish watching that episode. Political Correctness ruins so much- though it probably wasn’t as bad as the best Captain Planet.

        I do remember having trouble falling asleep a number of times after watching the original episode with the invisible electric monster that “consumed” everything.

  3. Navigation back to the spacecraft was an issue with the lunar rovers too. So they put direction finding equipment on the rovers. with the diameter of the moon being so small, you didn’t have to go far for the lander to fall below the horizon. As it turns out, my neighbor worked on the rover direction finding equipment and installed it. He’s quite a guy having also worked on wire B29s in WW2 and having served on Okinawa. Those jet packs were trialed at the crater in Arizona. According to their tour, they were dangerous and led to injuries when taking off or landing. If throttled up slowly, grave could fluidize and you could sink into the gravel. If there was a rock under one jet and not the other you could tip over.

    1. Wow, I did not know this. I would have thought it a simple matter to just follow the wheel ruts trail all the way back to the LM. Given the moon has a very weak magnetic field that compasses were not suitable, how did they do it?

      1. I would suggest a radio transmitter at the LM and the astronauts having a direction finding receiver/antenna with them. The frequency has to be selected low enough to give a ground-wave propagation.
        But perhaps there was an easier solution?

  4. Those were rather distinctive wheel tracks to get confused with over the alien golf carts! Then or ages later.

    More men have walked on the moon than have flown a Bell jet pack except James Bond.

  5. I kind of imagine it going like this…

    Nasa Admin: Now remember, the only thing between you and the deadly freezing vacuum of space is the material of your suite so be very careful out there.

    Astronaut: I want a little box I can stand in with a rocket motor on the bottom.

  6. I was thinking it would be neat to strap an astronaut to a rocket and go into orbit to get back off the moon, which would save all the weight penalty of the LEM was of doing it. As there is no atmosphere to worry about.

    But – probably I’m thinking too far out of the box. Again.

    1. Don’t laugh, there was originally a plan for a “lifeboat” for the LEM, should something happen and it be unable to take off.

      It basically involved two open-air(?) camping chairs strapped to a rocket engine with just enough rudimentary control to get it up into an orbit that the service module could reach.

      Cooler heads prevailed.

  7. My astronauts from the Airfix H0/00 figure set actually did have a couple jetpacks and a two-seater variant as well. These figures were originally released in the Apollo era and probably designed years before the actual flights when jetpacks were still on the menu.

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