Harrison Schmitt – Geologist & Lunar Astronaut

Published March 9, 2021

I have seen this impressive speaker at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference at least twice.  He strikes me as near to a “genius” as is possible for a human being.  I seem to remember that someone said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.  Certainly that will describe this Apollo 17 Astronaut and the first Geologist to stand on the Moon. 

As the video linked will reveal, he spent his time traveling to the moon looking back to analyze the weather of the Earth as it receded from the Moon-bound spacecraft.

I was not at this particular LPSC conference, but I am glad to have the video to appreciate the talk given by Schmitt, who never fails to impress, whenever I have seen him in person.  Among other subjects, Schmidt discusses:

  • Refined navigation – just a few orbits before –  that allowed a precision landing.  
  • Very plain, abundant and visible evidence of the lunar landing from Lunar Orbiter satellites decades after the landings – including rover tracks, footprints and long-lasting American flags that still cast shadows.
  • Body work on the Lunar Rover and why the lunar rover could not get stuck. 
  • Engineering challenges for future Moon work including space suit design and “roadwork”.
  • Sampling techniques and results including the famous “Orange Soil!”.

Figure 1:  Harrison “Jack” Schmitt December 1972 (left) and March 2017 (right)

After that is a lot of arcane Geological detail and the average viewer may be forgiven for fast-forwarding.  My readers, however, are above average and should be interested.

After that are the questions and that is required viewing, readers! 

Schmidt is very good at explaining this stuff.

No description of Lunar Geology* would be complete without a reference to Eugene Shoemaker, who was the premier enthusiast on that subject and would have been the first Geologist on the Moon, had it not been for a medical disqualification.  The first question to Schmidt (around 59 minutes) was about Shoemaker and the reply was, “I wouldn’t be here were it not for Gene Shoemaker”.  Schmitt was working for Shoemaker, who encouraged him to apply for the Moon program.

*The proper term in Selenology, but that term is rather obscure and awkward.

The very next question is about Helium 3 – of great interest to this reporter – that almost certainly is to be found on the Moon.  This is a substance that does not occur naturally on Earth and could make Fusion power practical. Video should appear below:

Schmitt was about 82 at the time of this lecture and had not lost his quick wit and sense of humor – nor his pitching arm (near the end).

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