by Norm James


Many thanks to Norm James for providing text and photos.



Moonmen is all about the design of the Lunar Rover. In the captioned gallery are many of Norm’s interesting concept sketches, renderings, and line drawings. There are also photos of prototypes and models. This is very significant history written by the designer who was there.

Norm James is featured in two previous Dean’s Garage Posts, Of Firebirds and Moonmen, Part One, and Part Two. His very interesting biography entitled Of Firebirds and Moonmen tells the story of the design of the Firebird III and his role in the design of the Lunar Rover. Information about how to order the book is at the end of this post.

In the late 1950s, General Motors created the Defense Systems Division, to enter new markets in aerospace and defense. It was initially located on Mound Road, below the GM Tech Center, but the intention was to ultimately move it to California. It was structured into three groups: Land, Sea and Space Operations. I was working at GM Styling at the time and was drawn in to support the Land Operations group for one of their proposals.

Surprisingly, as their charter was land based operations, this also included the Moon and they became involved with NASA. I was requested to assist in preparing proposal drawings for a Lunar Sample Return system that would fly to the Moon (on a Surveyor soft-lander spacecraft), take some pictures, scoop up a soil sample and rocket it all back to Earth. I submitted the drawings and they were presented in Washington.

Their move to California came shortly afterwards, with them setting up in Santa Barbara, however, they lost their division status and were restructure as the GM Defense Research Laboratories (GMDRL). In November of 1961, I was called upon again for more support on the same project and I drove there to serve a four-month assignment.

The experience and excitement of working on space projects was such a high that within a year, I requested, and was granted, a transfer to return. Most of the photographs and graphics presented here are taken from my book: Of Firebirds & Moonmen. The graphics are all my work and were prepared as either proposal or contract deliverables (all of this material was made available, Courtesy of the GM Media Archives). The media for most of the art was pencil, Flowmaster or Rapidograph ink pen on vellum. Some of the color art, prepared for slides, was casine paint on white-on-black photo-negative prints.

I left GM before the lunar rover contract was awarded to join the industrial design firm of Sundberg-Ferar, to work on L-1011 interiors at Lockheed in Burbank, California. NASA later did award a lunar rover contract to Boeing as the mission prime contractor and GMDRL as sub-contractor for the mobility system. The LRV ultimately was a 4×4.
—Norm James



Of Firebirds & Moonmen: A Designer’s Story from the Golden Age
by Norman J James
Xlibris Corporation, 2007
217 pages, 67 photographs, 43 illustrations
List price: $21.99
ISBN: 978-1-4257-7653-4
Purchase the book through Amazon
Purchase the book through Barnes & Noble

  1. So is there hope for a Ram Air III Lunar Rover?

Leave Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

clear formSubmit