MIECZYSŁAW BEKKER

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MIECZYSŁAW BEKKER

Without this Pole, it would not have been be possible to go to the moon. Mieczysław Grzegorz Bekker was born on May 25, 1905, in the Lublin region, in Strzyżów near Hrubieszów. His father Marian worked in a sugar plant in Strzyżów. All his youth and years of education took place in Konin. After graduating from high school, Bekker was educated in the Cadet School in Modlin, which he graduated in the rank of second lieutenant, and afterwards studied at the Warsaw Polytechnic at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. After graduation he worked at the Military Institute of Engineering Research while at the same time lecturing at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering of the Warsaw Polytechnic and at the School of Military Engineering. Bekker’s specialty was cars. For instance, he prepared vehicle designs for the Armored troops Command and constructed the Polish Fiat 508 “Jeep”, an off-road vehicle. He developed theoretical assumptions for off-road vehicles, proving the superiority of wheeled undercarriages. In the future, his concepts would bring him global fame as Bekker is considered to be the creator of a new field in technical sciences – terramechanics. In 1939, Bekker set out to fight the German aggressor and after the defensive war, he managed to get to France and get a job at the Tank Department of the Ministry of Armaments in Paris. From that time, up to the last days of his life, Bekker developed his talent abroad, but never renounced his homeland. In 1942, he accepted a job offer from Canadian authorities and found himself in Ottawa as a specialist in the Armored Weapons Research Office. In order to be able to use military laboratories without any hinderances, he joined the Canadian army in 1943 and developed Canadian military vehicle projects so that they be able to move freely on any, even the most difficult, terrain. While continuing in Canadian service, Bekker lectured at military American universities in New York and Washington. He appeared in the Canadian Army in 1956 as a lieutenant colonel and henceforth worked for the United States. Appreciating the knowledge and capabilities of a learned Pole, in 1961 he was appointed the director of the Automotive Research Group for General Motors Corporation AC in Santa Barbara, California. Bekker worked on the concept of a lunar vehicle. In 1961, NASA announced a competition to build a vehicle capable of moving around the surface of the Moon. In addition to Bekker’s team, another team led by a Pole, the famous structural engineer Stanisław Rogalski (1904-1976), participated in the competition. In Poland, Stanisław Rogalski was a co-constructor and producer of RWD aircraft (the name comes from the first letters of the names of three engineers: Rogalski, Wigura, and Drzewiecki). Rogalski worked after the war in the American aviation industry and was the author of many technical solutions allowing for the modernization of aircraft and helicopter production. The winner of the prestigious competition was Mieczysław Grzegorz Bekker. His project was accepted for implementation at General Motors in cooperation with Boeing plants. The Bekker vehicle was called Lunar Roving Vehicle – LRV or Rover (Wanderer) for short. The lunar vehicle had a length of 3 m 25 cm and 1 m 80 cm wide, weighed 208 kg and could take half a ton of cargo. The builder used four-wheel drive each moved by an electric motor powered by two batteries with a total capacity of 240 Ah. The rover could travel a distance of 100 km. In total, the Bekker team created three lunar vehicle designs to be manufactured and they were subsequently used in three manned expeditions: Apollo 15 (1971), Apollo 16 (1972) and Apollo 17 (1972). After completing the tasks, all vehicles were left on the moon. According to the opinion of all astronauts, the vehicles performed their tasks perfectly, were very manoeuvrable, climbed slopes perfectly, and, most importantly, reached places where a man in a hard suit would never reach.
The invention of the Polish engineer was called a “phenomenal achievement”. In America, it was estimated that thanks to the Bekker vehicles, 70% more information about the Moon was obtained than without them. Mieczysław Bekker died on January 8, 1989 in Santa Barbara at the age of 84.

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