The Armenian scientist who designed the first unmanned rover to explore the Moon
In 1971, the USSR succeeded in launching the very first unmanned rover designed to explore another celestial body. The Luna 17 spacecraft would carry the Lunokhod 1 rover to the moon.
The Lunokhod rovers were designed by Armenian Alexander Kemurdzhian, working for NPO Lavochkin (a major Russian aerospace company). Originally designed to scout landing places for a future manned mission as well as to act as a radio beacon for landers, the Lunokhod rovers ended up serving purely scientific exploration missions.
Alexander Leonovich Kemurdzhian was a pioneering scientist, of Armenian heritage, in the space flight program of the Soviet Union. As chief engineer-designer at the VNIITransMash, he designed the first rovers to explore another world – the Soviet Lunokhod rovers – making him the founder of the space transport machine-engineering science.
Kemurdzhian was born in 1921 in Vladikavkaz. He studied at Bauman Moscow Higher Technical School (MHTS) in 1940. In 1942 he volunteered for the Soviet army, and served from 1943 and until the end of World War II.
After the war, Kemurdzhian returned to Bauman MHTS, graduating with honors from the transport faculty in 1951.
In 1963-1973 A.L.Kemurdzhian headed works on the design and creation of the self-propelled automatic chassis of Soviet Moon rovers and Mars rovers. Under his leadership planetary rovers developed as robotic transport vehicles of space appropriation, and his group developed the first-ever planet research vehicles – «Lunokhods», Prop-M Rover (Apparatus of the Cross-Country Capability Estimate), apparatus for the jump movement at the moon of Mars – Phobos. Devices designed under his leadership also yielded data on physicomechanical properties of soil of the Moon and Venus.
Before his death in 2003 Kemurdzhian traveled to the United States to visit with engineers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and compare ideas on unmanned planetary rovers.