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Engineers Who Developed Lunar Rovers in Goleta Honored at Dedication Ceremony

Event was held at the newly opened Discovery Storage Center, which sits on the rovers’ 1970s test site

From left, engineer Paddy Mills, Investec president Kenny Slaught, and engineers Jerry Compton and Ferenc Pavlics pose with a rover brought over by Mills.
From left, engineer Paddy Mills, Investec president Kenny Slaught, and engineers Jerry Compton and Ferenc Pavlics pose with a rover brought over by Mills. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

Kenny Slaught, president of Santa Barbara-based Investec Real Estate Companies, said there are two things he remembers most about the moon walks of the late 1960s and early 1970s: Neil Armstrong taking “one small step for man,” and watching astronauts cruise the lunar surface in their rovers.

Little do many locals know, however, that the research, design, building and testing of those rovers happened in Goleta.

The newly opened Discovery Storage Center, a state-of-the-art storage facility on the site of the rovers’ development and testing, held a dedication ceremony in its lobby Thursday evening for the engineers who developed the iconic vehicles.

“For me, it’s such a special place that I just felt compelled to memorialize it and create an exhibit to remember what happened here,” Slaught, whose firm owns Discovery, told Noozhawk.

“I want this generation and future generations to know what happened here. Putting a man on the moon is one of the most remarkable human achievements ever, and it happened here — and nobody really knows it.”

Many of the retired engineers, he said, stayed in the area after working on the iconic vehicles.

Four rovers were ultimately made, with three ending up traveling to the moon between 1971 and 1973 for the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions.

A wheel from a lunar rover that didn’t make it to the Moon was on display alongside a scale model developed by engineer Ferenc Pavlics. Click to view larger
A wheel from a lunar rover that didn’t make it to the Moon was on display alongside a scale model developed by engineer Ferenc Pavlics. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

(The first moon landing, Apollo 11, was in 1969.)

Those three rovers — 10 feet long, over 450 pounds and capable of speeds approaching 10 mph — still sit on the Moon, and were instrumental in collecting samples of lunar regolith.

The rovers that made it to the Moon combined for roughly 56 miles of lunar travel. Each of their wheels was powered by its own electric motor capable of generating ¼ horsepower.

The original contract for the rovers’ development went to Boeing, but a major subcontractor was Delco, a subsidiary of General Motors and the employer of the engineers assembled at the dedication.

“We had a fantastic time; it was very exciting, because we had to prove that everything works,” Ferenc Pavlics, the man behind the idea and design of the rovers, told Noozhawk.

In addition to Goleta, he said, the rovers and the astronauts who would operate them were taken up to the sand dunes at Pismo Beach, where they could simulate craters and mountains.

None of that testing was possible, however, until Pavlics led the effort to secure the thumbs up from NASA.

Astronauts steered and operated the lunar rovers of the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions with only the simplest controls. Click to view larger
Astronauts steered and operated the lunar rovers of the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions with only the simplest controls. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

“It took us 18 months to convince NASA that the job can be done, because they didn’t plan the rovers for the Apollo Project,” he said. “So we built models, showed them the presentations in Washington, Houston, Huntsville, Alabama.

“Then we had left 18 months to design, test, and build the first of the four space-qualified rovers.”

In its hurry to get the rovers built, Pavlics said, NASA made nearly 400 more personnel available to what was then a six-person team.

“It was exciting,” he said of watching from the space center in Houston as the first rover deployed and unfurled on the lunar surface. “It was a great feeling.”

After retiring from GM, Pavlics, who now resides in Santa Barbara, was a consultant at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena for the development of the Mars rovers.

A wheel from a Moon rover that didn’t make it into space was one of the items on display Thursday inside the lobby of the Discovery Storage Center, which opened in September and maintains an informational exhibit dedicated to moon landings and the rovers in particular.

Discovery is Investec’s largest storage venture yet, said Greg Call, the president of Self StorageWorks, the company managing the facility.

Over 96,000 square feet from 667 storage spaces are available on site. Individuals and businesses can rent out a variety of storage-space sizes, and can store everything from a boat to pharmaceutical inventory to wines.

Discovery, at 6640 Discovery Drive, also features day desks with Wi-Fi, conference areas, climate-controlled areas, and shipping, receiving and assembling areas.

The goal, Call said, is a quick and seamless storage service that conforms to the customer’s needs.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Rover engineers Paddy Mills, Ferenc Pavlics and Jerry Compton receive special recognition awards from Investec president Kenny Slaught, second from right. Click to view larger
Rover engineers Paddy Mills, Ferenc Pavlics and Jerry Compton receive special recognition awards from Investec president Kenny Slaught, second from right. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)
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