Apollo 15 Oral History Interview Excerpts
The Apollo 15 Lunar Module Falcon touched down near
the Hadley Rille at the foot of the moon's Apennine mountain
range on July 30, 1971. David R. Scott and James B. Irwin
were the first Astronauts to explore the moon with the help
of a lunar rover, and they traveled more than 27 kilometers
during their three lunar surface EVAs.
practice and planning went into this lunar geological field
trip. The two astronauts, both former test pilots, worked
with field geologists to learn new skills and techniques,
including the development of a unique vocabulary for describing
the rocks to their dedicated EVA CapCom and the geologists
monitoring the mission back on Earth. During their three-day
stay, they collected approximately 77 kilograms of rocks and
soil, including the more than 4 billion year old anorthosite
sample, nicknamed "Genesis Rock."
Scott and Irwin were on the surface, Alfred M. Worden flew
solo aboard the Endeavour Command and Service Module
orbiting the moon. Worden also trained with geologists, but
concentrated on lunar observations and photography of the
moon's surface. Back on Earth, Joseph P. Allen, one of NASA's
scientist-astronauts, served as the lunar surface EVA CapCom.
below excerpts from oral history interviews conducted with
the scientists and geologists who contributed to this mission's
the Apollo 15 image gallery.
W. Head, Geologist, Apollo Lunar Exploration Program
Interviewed June 6, 2002
going to be a gold mine
We’d been very focused on explaining to the [Apollo
15] astronauts the question of was there any gas in the rocks
as they came up from depth within the Moon. They undergo decreasing
pressure, so it’s like opening a soda water bottle and
gas starts to come out. It’s really a big mystery as
to what was driving these volcanic eruptions, because gas
is a big component of that on the Earth. So we kept telling
them to be on special lookout for rocks with holes in them,
because the gas, when the rocks cool and the gas is coming
out, it’ll be vesicular, which means it just has a lot
of holes in it from the gas, and if they saw one of those
to get it. It’s sort of like the “Genesis Rock.”
If you see something that looks like that, that’s going
to be a gold mine.
They were coming back from an EVA, I forget which one, but
they were told that it’s time [to get back to the Lunar
Module]. Dave Scott said, “Houston, we’re having
a problem with a seat belt. I’m just going to get off
and adjust this thing.” I was sitting watching the seismometer,
and it “zzzzzz,” stopped, and you can see it stop,
and then they jump back on the [Lunar Rover] and say, “Okay.”
Then it takes off. “Okay, we’re on the way back.
It’s okay. Everything’s fixed.”
Well, it turned out what had happened was that Dave had been
driving along, “Whoa! There it is! There’s a rock
with all these holes in it. They’re not going to let
us stop.” So they did this seat belt thing to convince
Mission Control that they had to stop, and it worked. You
know, it worked. That was pretty remarkable, because the rock
was very important and just like the so-called Genesis Rock,
in understanding many aspects of lunar science. So there was
something. They knew what to look for. They knew how important
If they’d said, “Hey, we’ve seen the vesicular
rock that we’ve all been talking about. Can we stop
and get it?” the answer probably still would have been
no. But it worked. They were on the surface. They probably
had a little better idea of whether they could drive a little
faster on the way back.
Jim Head's oral history transcript
the Apollo 15 image gallery
the JSC Oral History Collection
R. Muehlberger, Geologist, Principal Investigator, Apollo
Field Geology Expert
has big white rectangular crystals that are flashing at me
If you go into northern New Mexico near Taos and look at the
Rio Grande Gorge, the widest part of it there, that's a 1:1
scale model of the Hadley Rille on the Apollo 15 landing site.
We set up a field trip for them there, where they worked along
the edge of the cliff, and a mile away on the other side with
their telephoto camera, they took a panorama. Then as they
worked their way down to farther stops, they did it again.
That gave us a stereobase to study the rocks on the far side,
and they did it on the Moon. It's really neat. You can pretend
you're there on the Moon, because you can see this stuff in
stereo and you can see the different layers and work out a
better history than you would have had otherwise. Of course,
the locals in Taos love it. "Our canyon was cut with
water. Yours was cut with lava, though." And they're
both just lava flows stacked up. That was one of the last
of the field trips before they went, but it was a perfect
1:1 analog to what they were going to do.
The mission itself, since I was sitting in the other room,
I don't know what kind of headaches appeared during the thing.
They always do. They couldn't get to a couple of the points.
In the overall, I don't think it mattered. Their prime reason
for landing there, they were close to the mountainside of
the ancient rocks on which we thought there ought to be some
rocks big enough of the lunar crust sitting there that got
blasted out of the Imbrium impact crater and standing there
in those mountains. Where they landed at the kink in the rille
would be a good place, and secondly, we could see this canyon
and figure out maybe a little better why it's there.
So Dave Scott picked up this thing and started describing
it. "It has big white rectangular crystals that are flashing
at me." He knew what it was. He knew anorthosites, but
he was unwilling to say it when millions of people were listening,
for the fear that he could be wrong. It's too bad. But that's
the rock that the newsmen nicknamed "Genesis Rock"
because it would tell us about the origin. It's the first
time we had a rock—about the size of my fist, actually
a little smaller. First time we had enough of a rock where
we could destroy a bunch, do all the lab stuff necessary,
and find out that, yes, the Moon was born at the same time
as the Earth was, and meteorites, which confirmed the astronomers'
assumption that the planets are all formed in one big episode,
instead of flying in and joining the team, however else you
might want to do it.
That rock, Genesis Rock, gave us that sample material to prove
that, up to that time an assumption. Now we know it. Actually,
when you look at a thin section of that rock, if it's got
"Genesis", it's got "Exodus" and "Deuteronomy"
and probably even some "Revelations" in it, but
it was a battered up hunk of rock.
Bill Muehlberger's oral history transcript
the Apollo 15 image gallery
the JSC Oral History Collection
P. Allen, Astronaut, Apollo 15 CapCom
Interviewed January 28, 2003
very different agendas
[The rock] was physically very large. Most of the samples
were small. They were just stones that came back, which got
loaded aboard and brought back for detailed study. But the
Genesis Rock was a conglomerate. I’m not sure what it
was made up of, but a lot of basic information came out of
that rock. The fact that it was different and physically large
and had what seemed to be quite unusual characteristics was
exciting to us. There are some photographs in the NASA archives
that show Dave Scott and me looking at the rock in the Lunar
Curatorial Facility afterwards, all wearing our white clean-room
I hope the history shows that there are two very different
agendas that somehow found themselves on Apollo. One was to
take an American to the Moon and return him safely. That was
one agenda. And the other agenda, unwritten and uncommitted
to, but kind of adopted increasingly as the missions unfolded,
was a scientific agenda. “As long as we’re there,
let’s get as much scientific information as we can.”
If you’re a flight controller and your highest priority
is only to get somebody there and back, you just want him
to step down onto the surface and then come back, because
this is a very risky place, and the more time you spend in
a risky place, the more chance there is for a catastrophe
to happen, in front of everybody.
If you’re a scientist, the more time you can spend and
the more activities you can do, the higher the likelihood
will be that you will learn something of fundamental importance,
and you realize that these two agendas are mutually perpendicular,
or maybe they’re opposed to each other.
The Apollo that resulted was a combination and a compromise
of those two totally different agendas. Now, was the proper
balance achieved? No one knows the answer. A balance was achieved,
and each agenda was satisfied to a degree. Neither perfectly.
To this day, the scientists would like to have spent more
time on each of the journeys out, and they also would like
to have flown Apollo 18, 19, and 20. And we had hardware to
do it and people to do it. But every time you flew to the
Moon you took a huge risk.
After Apollo 11, there were very strong forces that argued,
“Don’t go back to the Moon. We have done it, and
we’re the best in the world, and let’s not run
a risk of spoiling that.”
But others said, first of all, “Wasn’t that fun,
and can’t we learn a lot more?” Ultimately, those
arguments prevailed, and people did go back and consequently
we learned considerably more about the Moon.
One could assert that an appropriate balance was achieved.
Nobody was injured. So we played a risky game, but we got
away with it, and we learned an enormous amount more about
our solar system than we had known before. We didn’t
learn everything, but we learned a vast amount more about
our solar system.
We raised the bar an enormous
Gosh, Apollo 15, per se, well, it was a landmark mission in
that we raised the bar an enormous amount on what one could
glean scientifically from the Moon. Apollo 15 gave the world
a significantly increased scientific return, which was repeated
and actually improved upon with Apollo 16 and Apollo 17. In
simplistic terms, I would suspect that virtually everything
we know about the Moon comes from the discoveries of Apollo
15, 16, and 17. Some initial things came from Apollo 11, very
important, very basic. But the complex set of detail about
the Moon comes from the last three missions.
There are some great monuments on planet Earth. One is the
pyramids. We’re not sure what they are monuments to,
but they represent the collective effort of, clearly, tens
of thousands of people. Now, it was probably the physical
effort of most of them, but some mental effort of a few. One
In my mind, the Apollo Program in its entirety is a monument
of the same magnitude and beyond, and it represents the collective
efforts of hundreds of thousands of people. These efforts
are the aggregate of virtually every bit of human skill and
knowledge in one way or another, all the way from knowledge
of mathematics that had to do with the trajectory, to the
knowledge of sewing that had to do with the putting together
of the spacesuits. These bits and pieces of knowledge, processes,
techniques, technologies, are across the entire spectrum of
the human intellect, and they were all [combined to accomplish
Apollo]. I think that is just extraordinary. I’m now
reflecting upon a truly heroic effort on the part of a lot
of people, including even the generosity of the American taxpayer.
Virtually everybody in this nation celebrated that effort
as a victory. To my mind, it was a victory of the human organization,
dedication, and the human spirit.
As great an accomplishment Apollo was, it was nonetheless
quite different. There were victories of exploration from
earlier times, and there are names associated with them—Columbus,
Magellan. And these are obviously brave, perhaps even foolhardy
daredevils who attempted and did something. But, when it came
to Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, they are no longer an individual
persons named, because the accomplishments were an aggregate
of human effort. To me, that makes the achievement even more
Joe Allen's oral history transcripts
the Apollo 15 image gallery
the JSC Oral History Collection
A. Reynolds, Space Scientist, Lunar and Earth Sciences Division
Interviewed March 2, 2005
what we were looking for
We were all excited as always, because that’s what we
were looking for. These guys were trained to look for the
“Genesis Rock” and, of course, when they came
back, everybody wanted to look at that rock.
Then, of course, we had a cadre, I imagine about eight or
ten geologists, that worked for NASA. But these were—how
do I want to say this? A chemist is a chemist; a geologist
is a geologist. But geologists are two types. There’s
the type that go out and pick up rocks and then there’s
the kind that spend their time in the laboratories. The guys
that were at the Manned Spacecraft Center were rock geologists.
These guys went out and picked up rocks. They were hired because
that’s the kind of stuff they were doing when NASA started.
The guy that was in charge of that, you’d pick up a
rock and throw it at him. I picked up a rock one day and I
threw it at him, and I said, “What’s that?”
He looked at it, and he said, “That’s a meteorite.
It looks like this one.”
I said, “How the hell do you know that?”
He said, “Because clowns like you keep asking me.”
And it was, it was a meteorite. It was Keyes meteorite, and
by the way, that’s what they did a lot of studying on
early in the program, was with meteorites. If a meteorite
fell, you can bet that the astronauts were going to be there
the next day, because they wanted to get them out there to
see if they could find the meteorite, because the meteorite
looks a little different than a regular rock, because it doesn’t
have the wear and tear of the air, water on it. It still has
some really distinct features.
Mike Reynolds' oral history transcript
the Apollo 15 image gallery
the JSC Oral History Collection
Manager, Geologist, Lunar Surface Geology Experiment Team
Interviewed May 5, 2002
what do you do with a rille?
Apollo 15’s mission included landing a special kind
of a lunar feature called a rille. In this case it was the
Hadley Rille. Now, what do you do with a rille? Think about
that. The rille is a winding depression, linear, serpentine
in shape, with walls that gave you windows into the underlying
rocks, which is always one of the most difficult things we
had. The reason those windows were better than craters themselves,
which also gave you samples of underlying rock, is because
the walls were ordered, whereas everything on the rim of a
crater was thrown up by an explosive impact, which was, if
anything, the height of disorder.
There was none of the disordering phenomenon of an explosion
involved, we thought, and it’s probably still true.
So getting to go to the Hadley’s Rille required finding
an analog. Well, felicitous circumstances. We probably had
the best analog in the world in northern New Mexico. It’s
in the Taos area, and it’s called the Gorge of the Rio
Grande, and about five or six million years ago, there was
a tremendous set of basalt flow outpourings into a depression,
through which the river has cut a gorge, just about the same
width and the same depth as Hadley Rille. I remember suggesting
that to Bill Muehlberger, who had done a lot of important
work in the area, and he said, “Jeez, why didn’t
I think about that?” That was one for me. Well, finding
that was extraordinarily important and felicitous, but that
isn’t what was felicitous.
For the first time in an extended way, in the exercise along
the rim, we’re using a special vehicle, which was called
the “Grover,” and the Grover was the U.S. Geological
Survey’s preparation for the Lunar Rover, which had
yet to be driven on the lunar surface. It was going to go
up with them. The Grover worked like a charm, and it was electrical.
It ran well. It didn’t begin to have the capacity, because
it was operating in one G instead of in one-sixth G. It didn’t
begin to have the capacity. But it was stupendous.
We had these two crews working along this straight gorge,
about 800 feet deep, about 1,200 or 1,400 feet across, and
the river down below. They didn’t have that river on
the Moon, but we had everything else. We had the individual
lava flows. We had interflow sediments. The stuff wasn’t
covered with the debris that three and a half billion years
had produced on the rille, you understand, but, nevertheless,
you could see all kinds of things, and you could develop the
logic. We are seeing a stratigraphy, and we could determine
what was older and what was younger.
We didn’t know what we’d see when we got to the
Moon, but we hoped we could do some of that. We didn’t
do as much of that as we’d liked, but from my point
of view, the crew could see it. They knew what they might
be able to see. They knew what to look for. I didn’t
have to coach them on what you’re going to do there
at the rille, and we didn’t know for sure, because we
knew that the Moon was covered with debris layers which had
accumulated for billions and billions of years.
I got kind of tired
It was on missions like this that the crew understood enough;
I didn’t have to point out what was relevant every time,
and it was a damn good thing. One night we all convened in
my room for a debriefing on the day’s work. So we started
to debrief, and we went through it and we went through it,
and it had been a long day. We operated at 7,000 feet—that’s
the elevation of the Taos Plateau. These guys were in the
In some cases, I had to run along behind them. I got kind
of tired. And I remember that this one night I started talking,
debriefing them, and then I stopped. You know how you’d
talk and you were waiting to hear the next part of the sentence?
They were all waiting. I’d fallen asleep. [Laughter]
Oh, they forgave me. It was the kind of group we had and the
kind of working relationship. It worked out.
They revised the experiment
and did it better
They brought a lot of good science. But that’s because
[the crew] got into the science. There’s no way we could
have told them what to do. There were so many things they
did that were special. In a little foothill to the Hadley-Apennine,
there’s a crater. There’s a crater called St.
George’s Crater, and we were going to go to the St.
George’s Crater because the rim of craters is where
you get coarse debris, bigger samples that you can do certain
things with that you can’t do with the fine dust or
what we called the regolith on the Moon.
There was an experiment for a group of people who were interested
in what the solar wind and cosmic rays were doing to the surface
of materials on the unshielded Moon. On Earth we’re
shielded by atmosphere, by magnetic fields, and other things.
So what is the nature of this stuff? We described a potential
experiment for them. We got two rocks that were shielded on
two sides, collect, see if you can get a photo down below,
see if we could get some of the walls of the rocks that are
partially shielding them.
They did better than that. They found a rock and rolled it
over and brought up the shielded side. They sampled the unshielded
side. They sampled the shielded side. They sampled the soil
underneath it. You understand, they revised the experiment
and did it better.
Man, did that make me feel good. I hadn’t taught them
that. They were smart enough to do it. And that went through
all the experiments.
First-time experiences in
an alien environment
This is anecdotal, but it’s in the records somewhere.
One of the things was to get as high up on the flank of Hadley
Delta as they could get. Remember, this is the first mission
in the lunar world with a Lunar Rover. Nobody knew exactly
how well that vehicle would perform. We’d asked them
to pick up lots of big angular fragment samples. On the way,
all of a sudden, there was an uncalled-for stop. Dave worried,
muttered something about “I’m fixing the seatbelt.”
Bald-face lie. They’d seen a big rock, thereafter known
as the “seatbelt rock,” which they stopped to
pick up because it was interfering with the time lines in
their mission. In the end, that would redound on the accomplishments
they’d hope for. Well, they got the piece of rock.
But then they started up the slopes, and they wanted to get
to a place where they could get debris which had been thrown
up on the slope from the great impact event represented by
the Imbrium Impact. Okay, kept going up, but it got steeper
and steeper. Finally, off in the distance, they saw a rock,
and they got up to the rock. They couldn’t quite get
up to the rock; it was too steep. And they got out of the
Rover, and Dave got out first, and then Jim started to get
out, and as soon as Jim started to take his weight off the
vehicle, it began to slide down the hill. First-time experiences
in an alien environment.
Jim had to stand there for a while until he felt that he could
get the darn thing set and not get away. They went over to
the rock, and the rock was on a gentle slope. Jim looked at
that thing, and he said, “Gee, that looks kind of green.”
Now, prior to that time, color was never used in describing,
because the Moon was in shades of gray from white to black.
And Dave pushed his [sun visor up]. “Yeah, it does.
We’d better get some of that.” So he got it. That’s
the first time, and green was just the first color that subsequently
became very important in the science objectives. But they
responded, and they collected it, and it was beautiful. It
turned out that this was made up of zillions—you know
what a zillion is; ten to the x.—zillion beads of green
glass. And nobody told them to look for green glass, beads,
or anything like that. They did a beautiful job of sampling,
and that was the highest sample they collected on the Apennine.
Gee, look what I’ve
Down below there was this spot where they were wandering out,
a little further down, and they were walking along and Dave
reached out with this device we had created where he could
grab onto a rock and bring it up, and he brought it up. And
Dave said, “Gee, look what I’ve got.”
And Jim said, “That’s it.” What they had
found was a rock made up mostly of the mineral called feldspar,
and geologists have a special name for that, and it’s
called anorthosite. Now, if you look at the Moon, either in
high-quality photography or when you’ve got a full Moon,
you’ll see darker parts and lighter parts. Well, they’ve
already identified that the darker parts, which are called
mare, are made up of lunar basaltic lavas. Apollo 15 was one
of the beginnings of our beginning to understand the uplands.
We were not keen to do many trips to the uplands, but in Apollo
11, people sorting through the finer fragments began to see
little bits and pieces of what looked like rocks which were
called anorthosite, and here it was a piece that was that
big [Silver gestures]. It wasn’t a little teeny piece;
it was a big hand specimen.
And because we’d learned from 11 and had built it into
the experiments—I had taken them to a place in the San
Gabriel Mountains behind Pasadena where we have anorthosite,
and they’d looked at it, and we had discussed the fact
that the anorthosite might have been the most primitive or
primordial rocks on the lunar surface. When they picked this
up, they said, “That’s it,” and they described
it a little bit, and in the back room we knew that they had
picked up a piece of what looked like anorthosite.
The press heard that. In the debriefing between EVAs, they
said, “What was that rock they found when one of them
said, ‘That’s it’?”
And whoever was talking from the back room said, “It
sounded like they found a piece of anorthosite.”
“Anorthosite. What’s that?”
“Well, it might well be very old stuff.”
So the press created a name. They called it “Genesis
Rock.” That didn’t come out of the science room
at all; it was the press created it. But Genesis Rock, regardless
of the press creation, turned out to be one of the most primitive
samples, possibly the most primitive sample, we found on the
Moon. Well, that’s kind of interesting, because Apollo
16 then went on to visit a place where we would have had acres
and acres of that stuff.
It was an exciting piece, and again, they knew what an anorthosite
looked like. And completely aside from its ultimate significance,
it might not have given any answer that was very special to
the work I was doing and other people were doing. It took,
and it was operative, and that’s what they were thinking
about. So we couldn’t help but feel good about it.
So Apollo 15 sort of, if I can use the phrase, it was apotheosis
of all the things we’d been planning to do, and we did
so many other outstanding things in subsequent missions. But
it was the coming together of developing the technical capabilities,
preparing men to be explorers, as well as many, many other
things, and then, I’m going to say, felicitous things.
How did we know that they’d find Genesis Rock? How did
they know they’d find that green stuff? How did we know
that that boulder would be sitting there in such a position
that they could do all these things? Well, that’s because
the human intention, well educated, well prepared, can squeeze
things out, you understand? They can extract them.
Lee Silver's oral history transcript
the Apollo 15 image gallery
the JSC Oral History Collection
E. Lofgren, Geologist, Geologic Science Training Coordinator,
Interviewed April 22, 2009
was a big deal
Apollo 15 was the first mission that was going to go to a
much more complex site. The geology we had was at the edge
of this big Imbrium Basin, which was a 1,500-kilometer-diameter
basin. We were going to be landing on the basaltic volcanic
rocks that dominated the center of the crater, but we were
right next to the mountains at the rim. This was the first
chance we were going to have to collect primitive lunar crust.
So far, we hadn’t really done that. We knew it existed.
This was the first time we dared land close to the mountains,
that the mission controllers said, “Okay, we’ve
got really good with this landing thing now. I think we can
land near a mountain.” That was a big deal, because
we came over Hadley Mountain, which was pretty high. I forget
exactly how high it was above the mare, but about 11,000 feet,
and then plopped down right on the other side of it. Then
there was a big little less than one-and-a-half-kilometer-wide
valley bounding the other side. It was a rille. We think they’re
a volcanic feature, but it’s still a little open to
question. They’re probably basically a volcanic feature
related to the lava flows, but it’s sometimes hard to
tell for sure.
They had to land in this area in between the mountains and
the rille. They had to come over that mountain and plop it
right down, which they were able to do. They landed very close
to their target place. Let’s see. We had two fundamental
objectives, which were looking at the volcanic rocks and collecting
the pristine primitive lunar crust, the first part of the
lunar crust that formed.
I know what this is
In the training, we went to two kinds of sites. We went to
volcanic sites like Hawaii and a couple of others, but we
also went to sites where they would see the kinds of rocks
we expected to find as part of that primitive crust. People
think of granite as a rock that crystallizes deep in the Earth.
Well, it’s not the technical granite that the geologist
thinks of, which has compositional implications. This is a
rock that is all particularly one kind of feldspar. It’s
an anorthosite, which is rich in a calcium aluminum feldspar
called plagioclase or anorthite. We went to places where they
could look at those kinds of rocks. There was a place in southern
California in San Gabriel Mountains. There was a place in
northern Minnesota. There’s a big complex of anorthosites
there. In the San Juan Mountains in Colorado we looked. They
weren’t anorthosites, but they were granitic plutonic
type rocks. We wanted them just to have seen some of those
kinds of rocks, because we were hoping that they would get
a chance to sample them.
Sure enough, actually they did. People have probably heard
of the Genesis Rock. That’s the one they found that
really was part of that primitive crust. What was rewarding
was that Dave recognized what it was immediately when he saw
it. He picked it up and looked at it and said, “Well,
I can see the twinning in this feldspar. I know what this
is. This is what we came for.” Some comment like that
in the transcript. So everybody was all excited about that.
They did an excellent job of sampling.
The things we tried to accomplish in the training were to
teach them to be good observers of the geologic landscape.
These are guys that are trained test pilots, they’re
trained to know what’s going on around them, to observe
what’s going on around them. But looking at the rocks
and looking at the landscape is a little different thing than
they were used to looking at. So we had to teach them how
to do that in some kind of systematic way, how to describe
it, and also to help them develop a vocabulary that the geologists
had in common with them.
Our technique was not to try and change their vocabulary too
very much or to give them the full technical vocabulary that
a geoscientist would use, but to learn the way they described
things. They picked up a bunch of geologic terms over the
18 months they were training, but we made no great effort
to insist that they learn all the technical terms for what
they were describing. Just let them do it and let them get
used to doing it and let them get good at it. Then we would
learn the words that they would use and what they mean.
That was a prime thing to teach them, to develop a vocabulary
for describing what they were seeing, and to develop that
common vocabulary with the scientists. The technique we used
I think was really quite good. It did evolve and get better
We would have the crew going
out and collecting rocks
We would have them set up with radios. They would be talking
to a couple of geologists who could not see what they were
seeing. They were sitting in the “science back room”
someplace back near the base of where we started. We also
had the CapCom out there, the guy who would be the real-time
CapCom for the mission, in this case Joe Allen. He was on
all these trips, and he served that function on all of these
trips, so he was learning the vocabulary as well. He was learning
how they were going to do things and work in the field, because
he was the CapCom for all three of the EVAs. He had to know
what kinds of things they were supposed to be doing.
He would be talking to the crew, and there’d be a couple
of geologists sitting there with Joe. They had the same maps
the crew had. They’d listen to the crew’s descriptions,
and then they would make notes on what the crew saw at a given
point and a given station. We’d have predetermined stations.
They would try to find these stations. They got pretty good
at navigating their way around and finding things. They would
go and then they would describe it carefully and collect samples.
Talk back and forth their geologic observations.
This would be a four or five-hour exercise. Then we would
stop and have a little lunch. Then the geologists who were
sitting in that back room would get together with the guys,
the crew who were walking out there. We would always have
one or two geologists walking with the crew in the field.
Lee Silver often did that. I often did that. We would see
in real time what they were missing and what they were doing
right and doing wrong. But the first thing we would do is
walk out with the guys in the back room and let the guys in
the back room see what the crew had been describing and then
tell the crew how well they did it. How good a picture they
got of what they were trying to describe. So that conversation
would go on, then Lee would pipe in and tell them the things
that he could see that they missed.
So that was the general technique that was used. We did that
over and over again. It was like 18 field trips. Every one
of these 18 trips was at least 1 or 2 traverses, some maybe
even 3 or 4. So it was well over 30. So they had lots of time
to do this. That accomplished very well this ability to describe
and to communicate with the geologists. These were the geologists
who were going to be working with them in the real mission
as well. It allowed the crew to get to know the guys back
and forth and develop some rapport with the guys that they
knew they were going to be talking to and would be sitting
in the back room in the real situation.
Just a general feeling for
how you do geology
While we couldn’t match the geology from the Moon obviously,
being on Earth, we would focus the objectives for the field
training in the same mode as we had objectives for what we
were going to try to accomplish at the Apollo 15 landing site.
While we were doing all this, they were learning what the
real objectives were going to be when they went to the Moon,
because we would always relate what they were doing here to
what they’d be doing on the Moon. While it wasn’t
exactly the same, they understood why we were going to these
kinds of sites, and what we were trying to accomplish by having
exercises at these sites.
That gave them just a general feeling for how you do geology
and how you can relate. How doing a geologic exercise, while
it’s not exactly what you’re going to do on the
Moon, builds that fundamental knowledge base that allows you
to do what you need to do when you get there.
A very useful kind of device
Apollo 15 for the first time carried a whole new sampling
device that was conceived of after we went to the Moon and
we realized that this would be a good sampling tool. I have
to give credit to the engineers who allowed us to develop
this sampling device and get it on a mission in pretty short
timeframe. It was what we referred to as a rake. It actually
turned out very well-designed. It was like a scoop, but with
tines. It wasn’t a solid scoop. It had these fairly
thick wires, eighth-of-an-inch-diameter wires about a centimeter
apart, so that when they dragged this through the soft lunar
soil, you’d pick it up, all the soil would fall out,
but the rocks bigger than a centimeter would remain in there.
Those are the ones that we wanted to collect more of, because
we were looking for variety, and we thought the most variety
might be in these smaller samples that could have been bounced
in from farther away.
That turned out to be a very useful kind of device for sampling.
They would practice that, although most terrestrial geology
is not suitable for using that tool. The soil gets very hard
and crusty, and on the Moon it’s not hard and crusty.
So you have to have a special place to practice with the rake.
We had special procedures for collecting rocks. We would take
a particular set of photographs. For collecting soil we would
have a particular set of photographs.
They didn’t even have
to think about it
In all of their traverses, they would use all of these techniques
all the time to collect samples, so that the sampling became
just really second nature. They knew how to sample without
having to stop and think, “Oh, what do I do now?”
It became so ingrained, so automatic that they knew they were
going to collect a sample, “This is what I do.”
They didn’t even have to think about it.
They carried a little device that they would set on the ground
by their sample. Then they would take a picture looking down
Sun with the Sun to their back. Then they would do these cross
Sun photos. So we had the set routine. They’d go through
the set routine, and that became very much second nature.
They had to learn this and get this ingrained so they could
think about the geology and not have to think about so much
what they were doing. We knew that would be important as well.
That worked out very well, too.
Doing those techniques over and over again, I think the guys
just got very confident in what they were doing. They felt
like they could go up there and do a good job. They knew they
could do that. There wasn’t any trepidation about saying
something. They weren’t shy about describing what they
were describing because they had the confidence that they
could do that.
Gary Lofgren's oral history transcripts
the Apollo 15 image gallery
the JSC Oral History Collection
El-Baz , Geologist, Supervisor of Lunar Science Planning and
Operations; Principal investigator for Visual Observations
Interviewed November 2, 2009
was your advisor?
Joe Allen is the one that was fascinated by my beginning.
He would ask, “When did you come out of Egypt? Why did
you do such and such? What did you study in Egypt? What was
For Apollo 15, we were having a briefing, but during the day
they were off for something. It was a holiday, but we never
took holidays, but it was a holiday. We decided okay, let’s
take an afternoon and go cook some hamburgers and have a cookout
and some beer, and we’ll come back. We did. So he and
I were sitting next to the fire that we built to cook the
hamburgers. The other guys were standing with some beers out
in the distance. He said, “Farouk, who was your advisor?”
I said, “What do you mean?”
He said, “Your thesis advisor.”
I said, “Oh, you wouldn’t know him.”
He said, “Why? He’s got to be one of these guys,”
Kuiper or big names in astronomy.
I said, “No, no, you wouldn’t know him.”
He said, “What do you mean, you wouldn’t know
him? What do you mean? Where did you get your PhD?”
I said, “In something called the Missouri School of
Mines and Metallurgy.”
He said, “School of Mines and Metallurgy?” He
assumed that I had it in some astronomical thing that relates
to the Moon, because I’m the Moon man as far as he’s
concerned. He said, “What was your adviser’s name?”
I said, “His name was Chris Amstutz. You wouldn’t
He said, “What was your thesis topic on, the PhD?”
I said, “It was about the lead and zinc deposits in
He said, “You’re kidding.”
I said, “Honest to God.”
He said, “Lead and zinc deposits in southeast Missouri?
That was your PhD?”
I said, “Yes.”
He said, “Hey guys! Come hear this. You’re putting
your lives in the hands of a guy who’s an expert on
lead and zinc!”
He was right. What the hell is a guy who’s an expert
on lead and zinc doing teaching astronauts about the Moon?
He’s the one that would later say that, “The only
man on Earth that I’ve ever met that knows the Moon
like the palm of his hand is Farouk El-Baz.” Joe Allen
himself, said this in one of the debriefings.
Farouk El-Baz's oral history transcript
the Apollo 15 image gallery
the JSC Oral History Collection
to JSC History Portal