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Apollo 17 Oral History Interview Excerpts

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Eugene A. Cernan, interviewed 12/11/07

Houston, the Challenger has landed
At about three meters, you got a contact light, that little probe hits the surface, tells you you're close, you better shut the engine down, because if you don't shut it down and you land with the descent engine running full-blast at high power, like it was at that point in time, the backpressure could explode the Lunar Module. So the plan was to shut down the engine and fall the last nine feet.

As I say, it's very dynamic, very noisy. By the time you get to 80 feet the ground's quit talking to you, they can't say much. Long before that, I told Jack [Schmitt], “Don't talk to me, I don't need the information you're giving me.” I know he kept calling the fuel out and one thing or another. By that time I didn't need to hear anything else. When you shut down and all of a sudden it's like going over a bump in a country road, you go up, come down, when you shut the engine down, boom, and you hit. Not real hard, but with a thump.

That's where you experience the most quiet moment a human being can experience in his lifetime. There's no vibration. There's no noise. The ground quit talking. Your partner is mesmerized. He can't say anything. The dust is gone. It's a realization, a reality, all of a sudden you have just landed in another world on another body out there somewhere in the universe, and what you are seeing is being seen by human beings, human eyes, for the first time.

Where you are no human beings have ever been before. It's absolutely—except for the glycol pumps, the environmental control system fans blowing, which you don't hear—it is distinctly absolutely 100 percent quiet. From all the activity and all the dynamics and all the noise and all the talking and all the vibration it goes to nothing that quick.

It could have been two seconds, ten seconds, a minute or two, I don't know. But after we all got our breath and realized hey we are there, that's when I told Houston, “Houston, the Challenger has landed.” …

And it's not Earth
When I stepped on the surface, I realized I was really there, and that for the first time, I'm stepping on another body in this universe. You can climb the highest mountain or walk the depths of the deepest ocean on Planet Earth but you're still on Planet Earth. Now after all that zero-G traveling for three days and my other flights, I'm standing and touching something hard, something I can feel, and it's not Earth.

That came home to me very very clearly. I'm living, truly living in another world at this point in time. There have been people who want to believe in the fantasy or the conspiracy, whatever, that it was all done in Hollywood, we never really walked on the Moon. Well, if they want to have missed one of the greatest adventures in the history of mankind, that's their choice. But once my footsteps were on the surface of the Moon, nobody, but nobody, could ever take, and to this day can take those footsteps away from me. Like my daughter's initials I put into the Moon during that three days we were there. Someone said, “How long will they be there?” I said, “Forever, however long forever is.” I'm not sure we, any of us, understand that….

I saw it with my own eyes
I made the last steps on the 14th. It's the last steps that are perhaps more memorable to me than that first step, because I'd been in this valley on the Moon, almost living in a paradox. Sunshine the whole three days we were there. Yet surrounded by the blackest black that we can conceive in our mind, and we don't know how to define it, describe it. We pull words out like infinity, the endlessness of space, the endlessness of time, but we don't know what that is. But I can tell you the endlessness of it all exists, because I saw it with my own eyes.

So you're in the middle of this. You're part of this unique part of the universe. Everything's three dimension when you look back at the Earth in all its splendor, in all its glory, multicolors of the blues of the oceans and whites of the snow and the clouds. If your arm were long enough while you're on the surface, it's almost as if you could reach out and put it in the palm of your hand and bring it back close to you and take it home with you. Take it home with you so everybody else could see.

But when I climbed up the ladder for that last step, and I looked down, and there was my final footsteps on the surface, and I knew I wasn't coming back this way again, somebody would—and somebody will—but I knew I was not going to come back this way. I looked over my shoulder because the Earth was on top of the mountains in the southwestern sky. Never moved for the whole three days we were there.

People kept saying “What are you going to say, what are going to be the last words on the Moon?” I never even thought about them until I was crawling up, basically crawling up the ladder. But I felt as if I'd been on a plateau somewhere in space.

There was too much purpose

Science and technology got me to this plateau on another planet, another body in this universe. Science and technology got me there, but when I got there and I looked back home at the Earth, science and technology could not explain what I was seeing nor what I was feeling. You look at the Earth, and it very majestically yet mysteriously rotates on an axis you can't see, but must be there. There are no strings holding it up. It moves with purpose. It moves with logic. Every 12 hours you're looking at the other side of the Earth. It's inconceivable to be somewhere to watch the Earth rotate in front of your very eyes.

When I looked back home there was too much purpose, too much logic. The Earth to me—and we all, I think, come home with our own impressions—was just too beautiful to have happened by accident. Science and technology could not give me the answers I was looking for, and I came home with a conclusion that it's just too beautiful to have happened by accident. There must be something you and I, all of us don't fully understand about the creation of the universe, about the miracle of life itself.

I wasn't coming this way again

I thought about that, and as I say, it was a nostalgic moment, because it wasn't like going to Grandma and Grandpa's farm this summer or for Christmas. You do it again next year and the next year and the next year. I wasn't coming this way again. I wasn't coming back. This was it. I wanted, like in the simulator, I wanted to push the freeze button, stop time, stop the world. I just wanted to sit there and think about this moment for a few moments, and hopefully absorb more subconsciously than I had the ability to take in consciously. But I couldn't, there was no freeze button.

So up the ladder I went, and that's why my last steps are probably more memorable to me; although I'd spent a lot of time almost involuntarily looking at the Earth over my shoulder the whole time I was on the surface, it was at that moment that it came home loud and clear that it was uniquely an awesome and special moment and event in my life. Although we spent the next night on the Moon in what we call a sleep cycle, left the next morning, those steps up that ladder, they were tough to make. I didn't want to go up. I wanted to stay a while.

Read Gene Cernan's oral history transcript: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/history/oral_histories/CernanEA/cernanea.pdf

Return to December: A Significant Month in Apollo

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Harrison H. “Jack” Schmitt, interviewed 3/16/00

A shooting star hit the Moon
Most of the Moon was in Earth shine, not illuminated by the Sun. I can remember being very impressed by how much light the Earth cast on the Moon. You could see features very clearly in this blue light of Earth, and really quite spectacular.

At one point I was looking down at the surface, it would have been way west of Copernicus, and probably even getting close to the big basin called Orientale, and I saw a little tiny pinprick of light on the surface. It was almost certainly a meteor hitting the surface of the Moon and they will give off a little bit of visible light. So I had to chance to see what was effectively a shooting star hit the Moon….

This magnificent valley

The first thing I remember is that when I stepped down from the ladder my—I think it was my left foot firstgot on the side of a rock with these little beads of glass on it, and slipped. I can remember hanging onto the ladder while my foot was slipping off to the side. But those first steps on the Moon were in the shadow, because that's the way we had landed, the sun was behind us. Fact is, I would say the first half hour, forty-five minutes was. You were still in a very familiar place, even though you were walking and had the Moon soil beneath you, you were working with the lunar module, something you had worked with before, and many, many times, and was like being in the same familiar scene. You didn't really have a chance to look around you very much. At least I didn't.

It wasn't until the flight plan called for me to go some seventy-five meters away from the lunar module in three different points around it and take a panorama at those three points to document the site before we had really screwed it up, that's the first time I had a chance to see this magnificent valley that we were in, a valley deeper than the Grand Canyon, 7,000 feet, 6 to 7,000-foot mountains on either side, 35 miles long, and about 4 miles wide where we had landed. The slopes of the valley walls were brilliantly illuminated by this little Sun, by that time probably a 10-degree Sun, something like that. The Sun itself was brighter than any Sun that I had ever seen, of course, in New Mexico or anywhere else, in a desert-like landscape.

But most hard, I think, to get used to was a black sky, an absolutely black sky. The biggest problem I think photographers have in printing pictures from space is actually finding a way to print black, absolute black. Certainly slides that you show will have a little bit of blue in that background, and you're just never going to get the contrast that we had visually on the Moon, because the sky was black.

Then hanging over the southwestern wall of the valley was the Earth, at this point about a two-thirds Earth, in terms of its phase. The whole scene was really spectacular. It's one of those things that you have to go see yourself….

And that's discovery
It was the most highly varied site of any of the Apollo sites. It was specifically picked to be that. We had three-dimensions to look at with the mountains, to sample. You had the Mare basalts in the floor and the highlands in the mountain walls. We also had this apparent young volcanic material that had been seen on the photographs and wasn't immediate obvious, but ultimately we found in the form of the orange soil at Shorty Crater.

But as soon as you had a chance to look around, you could tell, everything we expected to find there, and more, was going to be available to us, and that's what geologists like. And they really like to have the unexpected. I mean, it's one thing, part of your jollies are gotten by trying to anticipate everything you could possibly anticipate, but then you get a new surge of adrenaline when you find there are things that you never could have anticipated. And that's discovery. That's when science really becomes exciting, those things that you didn't anticipate and they occur, and that's where scientific discoveries are made. That's the extension of your anticipation….

We found the oldest rock that's been sampled on the Moon at the base of the South Massif. We found the orange soil, which is really stirring things up this day and age, because it makes it very difficult to explain how the Moon might have formed by a giant impact of a Mars-sized asteroid on the Earth. The consensus of the scientists is still trying to make that giant impact work, but I frankly don't think it's going to work over the long haul. I think we're going to have to have a different theory than that. The orange soil is right in the middle of that debate.

Then the big boulder we worked at at Station 6 was at the base of the North Massif, was the first time that anybody had had a chance to see a large exposure of the kinds of materials that are produced by one of these huge basin-forming impacts on the Moon, impacts that happened about fifty times on the Moon and almost certainly happened three or four times that number on the Earth during the same period. It also was a period in which life was trying to get started on the Earth, but didn't get started, as far as we know, until that period of impact, big-basin forming, was over, about 3.8 billion years ago.

Two major benefits to humankind
We were looking at an awful lot of information, not only about the origin of the Moon, but that was relevant to a better understanding of the evolution of the Earth, the origin of the Earth and its evolution, particularly in that period of time when life was trying to get started here.

Apollo had really two major benefits to humankind. One is, it demonstrated that free men and women, when faced with a challenge, can meet that challenge and succeed in a political and technological race that had a lot to do with the preservation of freedom on this planet. Secondly, something that was recognized by George Low and Bob Gilruth and Gene Kranz and Chris Kraft and Sam Phillips at Headquarters, even years, several years before Apollo 11, we had the capability and they allowed us to use that capability to understand the Moon to a first order scientifically. And that is contributing in many, many ways to a better understanding of the Earth, and one never knows all the things that are going to come from that.

One of the things we didn't know was going to come from that until fifteen years after we had collected the samples, was that on the Moon, particularly Apollo 17 and Apollo 11 sites, we have an energy resource that should be examined very, very carefully as a future alternative for fossil fuels. That is a potential return from the expenditure of the taxpayers' money that nobody could have anticipated, but it is in the same class of those unanticipated returns that came from Lewis and Clark exploring the Louisiana Purchase and really has always come from any type of human exploration that we've undertaken.

Read Jack Schmitt's oral history transcript: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/history/oral_histories/SchmittHH/schmitthh.pdf

Return to December: A Significant Month in Apollo


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Joseph P. Allen, interviewed 1/28/03

A victory of the human organization, dedication, and spirit
A fond observation I have—fond to me, at least—is there are some great things, 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 doesn’t know.

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 mean, 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, I think, 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. You know, there were victories of exploration from earlier times, and there are names associated with them—Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand 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 person’s name, because the accomplishments were an aggregate of human effort. To me, that makes the achievement even more remarkable.

Read Joe Allen's oral history transcripts: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/history/oral_histories/AllenJP/allenjp.pdf

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Michael B. Duke, interviewed 10/13/99

An emotional kind of event
Throughout the Apollo Program and in most NASA programs, the engineers are in charge. The engineers are the ones that make the systems work, and they really have to look carefully at every little angle that is important to the mission. The scientists typically recognized that, but still chafed a lot at the restrictions and maybe what looked like lack of respect sometimes to the scientists, that they couldn't get their views heard by the engineers, and when they could get listened to, there was this long, complex system of reviews and reports and discussions that had to go on before even the smallest thing was changed.

So during the Apollo Program, there got to be quite a conflict between the scientists and the engineers. At least on the surface there appeared to be. As we progressed from the Apollo 11 mission to the later Apollo missions and the engineers got a little bit more comfortable with the missions, the scientists were able to play a larger part. They were, of course, involved in the actual mission operations helping to plan what the astronauts would do and where they could go and what kinds of samples they would collect and what kind of tools they would use and that sort of thing. But later on in the Apollo Program, the engineers even offered some opportunities for doing some new experiments.

By the end of the program, there was quite a lot of respect among the scientific community for the way in which the engineers pulled this all off. I remember a real highlight of those days was a party, actually, that was held after Apollo 17, which was explicitly set up to invite a bunch of the key engineers on Apollo and a lot of the key scientists together. It was quite an emotional kind of event where the scientists essentially got up and thanked the engineers for doing what they did. I think it was a memorable event.

Read Michael Duke's oral history transcript: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/history/oral_histories/DukeMB/dukemb.pdf

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Farouk El-Baz, interviewed 11/2/09

What do you mean, orange soil?
Apollo 17, when Jack Schmitt mentioned orange soil at the site, “What do you mean, orange soil?” He talked about this might be fumarolic activity. Fumarolic activity is mostly at the very end of volcanic eruptions, meaning that it is rather recent, last million years or something. We had no idea that the Moon could have been surviving alive that long. Everything has died on the Moon three billion years ago we thought. Actually there is oxidation of the material, because this red-orange color can come with oxidation of iron. Does this mean that there is water vapor that is hot that oxidizes things on the Moon? This is another Moon altogether. What is this?

This is when I communicated to Ron Evans through the CapCom to see whether he can see that thing, orange soil. It is at Shorty Crater; he knows where Shorty is. “Look at Shorty Crater, look at the northwest corner of Shorty Crater. See whether you see some orange color.”

He said, “Yes, I can see, I can actually. There is some orange coloration on the rim.”

“That’s great. Now look any other place, especially at the other edge of Serenitatis. Do you see any other, any similar color to that?”

He comes in. “Yes, I see a whole lot of them.”

So we thought that it’s not a unique thing, it’s not part of this, and it doesn’t have to be fumarolic activity or oxidation. It is something that maybe impacted, so these were three or four individual observations that had an impact on our thinking about the Moon.

Read Farouk El-Baz's oral history transcript: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/history/oral_histories/El-BazF/el-bazf.htm

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Jan M. Evans, interviewed 8/7/03

Everybody felt a part of this program
A personal [memory], which was very emotional for all of us, Jamie and Jon and Ron and myself, was after the fellows returned from Apollo 17. Of course, we were out at Ellington to meet them. I don’t know if you’re familiar with El Lago, but Lake Shore Drive is an entrance that comes in there and curves around by the lake and then curves up, and another block up, and then you would turn into our cul-de-sac.

Both sides of the street, all the way from the entrance into our cul-de-sac, was lined with flagpoles with the flag flying. That was just a bit overwhelming. That was something that the whole community decided to do, and all the children in the community had been informed about it, or so I found out, and there were people on horseback carrying flags, and any child that had a bicycle or tricycle had red, white, and blue decorated streamers and in their wheels and everything.

Everybody felt a part of this program and a part of this community. They were proud.

Read Jan Evans' oral history transcript: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/history/oral_histories/EvansJM/evansjm.htm

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Eugene F. Kranz, interviewed 1/8/99

This is the ultimate pass/fail
The Mission Control logo is an interesting one. At the conclusion of the Apollo 17 mission, we had established a set of values. You know, I talk to people all over the world now. I talk about leadership, the kinds of people we had, I talk about trust that developed between the team, I talk about the values of this team: commitment, teamwork, discipline, morale, tough, competent, risk, sacrifice. I can quote these terms out to these people.

It was these values that built the chemistry, because these are young people. They've never been tested, they've never been tried before, but it's the chemistry that builds within the team so you know within a second whether a person needs help or not. It's a chemistry that builds intuitive communications. It's chemistry that locks people together when things get tough. It's the trust between controllers, flight directors, and crew and even program management that allows us, when things get tight, to make the seconds count, to pick directions and move off in this direction with only a fraction of a second's thought about it and nobody pulling off in a different direction. So it's this amazing place called Mission Control, which is an incredible leadership laboratory. People talk about pass/fail. Well, this is the ultimate pass/fail.

As we were approaching the end of the Apollo Program, I was looking for some way to leave a legacy for everything that we had ever learned in Mission Control for the next generation of controllers, as [Chris] Kraft had left the legacy of the flight director. A flight director's got probably the most interesting job description in history. It's only one sentence long: "A flight director may take any action necessary for crew safety and mission success." That's it. I think in American life today in the military there is no job description that is that simple and so frank and so straightforward, no ambiguity. So, Kraft had basically left that legacy.

I wanted to leave now the legacy of Mission Control, and I was trying to find a way that everything that Kraft and myself and [Glynn] Lunney and [Cliff] Charlesworth and [Gerry] Griffin and [Peter] Frank and [Milt] Windler—I mean, everything we had learned, everything that we packaged in these first 13 years of space.

Read Gene Kranz's oral history transcripts: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/history/oral_histories/KranzEF/kranzef.pdf

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William R. Muehlberger, interviewed 11/9/99

We did a sneaky thing
We did a sneaky thing on Apollo 17, because there we had the only scientist that was ever flown to the Moon, as well as Gene Cernan, remarkable, capable pilot. Their first field trip was with Bob Parker along with them. Bob was their CapCom. He's a physicist Ph.D. I had one of the NASA geologists [Gary Lofgren].

We all flew to El Paso, rented a station wagon, and I took them all through the Big Bend country. We'd stop at some place and I'd turn my back to the things we were looking at, and said, "Describe it to me." And Cernan turned out to be remarkably good, he had a nice capability of describing things and what's there. So we figured, well, Gene could pick up this aspect. How are you going to have two people whose trainings are so different working as a team? You've got to each do that. Well, they ended up, I think, a remarkably good team.

In the science back room we had a TV camera that looked at the geologic map that was projected into Mission Control. So when you're looking at Mission Control, it was the left most screen, which was never up on public TV because Captain Video's cameras were looking across at the opposite side, which is the action that was going on on the Moon and down to the CapCom and that kind of play.

So, on that thing we would put a note, "Here's the time of arrival at this spot, the time of departure, and the tasks to be done there." So at each place then that was slipped on so it would be up on the screen, so the CapCom could see it. As things were done, we would check them off, so we could make sure that the crew was carrying it through at the timing that was available.

So when [Jack] Schmitt was running around, we'd make up a new one and then remove the first one, and that became what we did at that spot. In effect, he was running the mission from the Moon. I was the official one. But what the heck? I can't see that stuff like he can. Besides that, he knows it better in the first place.

While Schmitt was doing that, that was about a minute he had available to do that, Cernan got out, got the tools off, set the TV antenna so we could start getting TV, started the gravity meter so it could detect the pull of gravity, and then we started the tasks. On the time line, Schmitt had a whole bunch of stuff listed in there, all just plain baloney, tasks that he was doing. So the time line was full. We were covered. But we set it up this way. All of those within the geological world certainly knew it, and I had a sneaking hunch that the top brass knew it, too, but this is a practical way out, and they didn't object. That, I guess, is the key point, to have it done that way….

Send scientists

The other thing Jack did at the end of each place as they're driving off, he summarized everything that he'd seen and learned, so by the time they landed in the Pacific Ocean, we'd written a report about that landing site that was better than the one we used to write for the previous missions, the ninety-day report, ninety days afterwards where the rocks were all opened, you had a chance to see them, you had all the film, you had the chance to talk to the crew, and integrate that to the "Here's what we did on the Moon." We had one that good before they landed, and then it grew from there. My judgment, of course, is send scientists. It happened.

Read Bill Muehlberger's oral history transcript: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/history/oral_histories/MuehlbergerWR/muehlbergerwr.pdf

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Richard W. Nygren, interviewed 1/12/06

The Moon was dull
It turned out that we were driving down there the night of Apollo 17, and Apollo 17 was a night launch, so we were about halfway between Cocoa Beach and Miami where we pulled off on the side of the beach to watch the launch.

That was just absolutely spectacular, just unbelievable, being as far away as we were, and the Moon was dull compared to how bright that Saturn V was in the sky. It just lit the sky up, just unbelievable.

From that angle, arching out over the ocean, you could actually see the arc part of it, where when you’re sitting at KSC in that area and it takes out, it almost looks like it’s in a straight line, so you don’t see the arc to it. It just looks like it’s going straight up. But it was a beautiful flight to go down there.

Read Rick Nygren's oral history transcripts: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/history/oral_histories/NygrenRW/nygrenrw.htm

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Robert A. R. Parker, interviewed 10/23/02

Not everybody gets to do that.
Mission scientist was really the interface between the crew and the science community. Now, that’s different and funny when you’ve got Jack Schmitt, who’s a geologist and is going to interact with any scientist he wants to. It’s not like had it been Joe Engle. If it had been Joe, I’d have been the interface between Joe Engle and Gene [Cernan] and the scientists, no questions about it. But now I’ve got Jack in there, and, well that was just one of those things which made it easy and hard, I guess. Jack and I worked very well together.

As mission scientist, I went to most of the science team meetings. You knew what was being planned, what the rationales were behind that. At the same time, Jack had training. He had lunar module training. He was the lunar module pilot. So he had training for the command module, lunar module, and all those things. So he couldn’t go to all those science team meetings. So essentially I’m there as his representative, even though he’s the scientist as well….

And of course some of it was great fun. I mean, Jack and I spent nights down at the crew quarters naming the craters, because every crew got to name the craters; it was the good way of talking about where they were. And Jack and I spent time naming a lot of the craters in the landing site. Hey, not everybody gets to do that.

Read Bob Parker's oral history transcript: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/history/oral_histories/ParkerRAR/parkerrar.pdf

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Granville E. Paules, interviewed 11/7/06

All right, I’m retired
Apollo 17 was the last mission, and it was a night launch. I’d never seen any launch, Apollo launch. I’d been out to see the vehicles being crawled out to the launch pad and went up in the VAB in the very top, and got to look in the spacecraft after it’s been all assembled and everything, but I’d never actually seen a launch.

So I said, “All right, I’m retired.” So we all went, and I took the family. We were going to go down and watch the launch. Well, we had it all set up, and remember, it slipped a couple of days, and our flight and everything was all set up; we had to go back. But on the last day with the last minute of the last hour or something, they finally got the thing off, and I have all these movies of it. I took still 35mm shots while my wife was taking movies of it.

You could feel it in your bones
It was really exciting, because it’s kind of a great way to end your career and that particular notch in your career, because you got to see the thing really happen. There’s nothing like being at a launch, even though you’re not really close to it. The launch vehicle looked about this high [gestures] out at arm’s length, probably.

But when you see it lighted and the engine light at night—you’re not expecting the shock wave actually to get all the way over to where the viewing areas were, but all of a sudden you can see all these birds take off. Flocks of birds take off, these seabirds between you and the launch vehicle, as this shock wave comes rolling toward you. You can see that the brush and the trees all wiggle. You’re still not expecting this thing, and it all of a sudden it hits. It’s really very, very exciting. It just rumbles, and it’s a really deep rumble.

I went to a Shuttle launch later when I went back to work for Space Station, and the Shuttle, I compare them in the Navy to like a 16-inch gun firing—which is a real deep, and the whole ship shakes and everything—to a 5-inch gun. This is the size of the bullet, 16 inches across versus 5 inches across. The 5-inch sounds like a really sharp crack. It’s just a crack, really different, and the Shuttle sounds the same way. It crackles when it takes off.

The Saturn V would just kind of—you could feel it in your bones. It [rumbles] all the way through, even where we were standing.

Read Gran Paules' oral history transcripts: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/history/oral_histories/PaulesGE/paulesge.pdf

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Philip C. Shaffer, 1/25/2000

You can't get there from here
At that point, Bill Tindall got his revenge, and I became the chairman of the data priority, and off we went with all the rest of the lunar missions, planning those, the J missions, the ones that a rover and the full-blown scientific instrument complement in the service module. That was very, very much more complex in getting all of that done.

I got involved a lot in landing site selection at that point, too, but it was as the data priority guy, mission techniques guy, rather than any other role. I remember the selection for Apollo 17, the geologists wanted to go to Taurus-Littrow, the crew was interested in going to Taurus-Littrow, and the trajectory guys say, "You can't get there. It's too narrow."

Taurus-Littrow has got a 200-foot scarp cliff at the end of it and it's got these 6,000-foot mountains on each side, but this scarp is 200 feet of lunar crust, it's exposed. One of the mountains has had a huge slide and you can see the debris material that's down on the floor. There's impact craters there. There's volcanoes there. I mean, everybody wants to go, but the trajectory guys are saying, "You can't get there from here."

The argument escalated, and finally we ended up in the presence of Chris Kraft about landing site selection for Apollo 17. Chris listens to the scientists make their plea and the trajectory guys doing their doom-saying, and then he looked at me and he said, "Well, what do you think?"

I said, "Chris, you ought to go. Let's go. We can do that."

So Bill Muehlberger, who was the geologist guy, he made up a plaque for me for that one, with a little rhyme, basically acknowledging the role that I'd gotten to play in picking that landing site.

Read Phil Shaffer's oral history transcript: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/history/oral_histories/ShafferPC/shafferpc.pdf

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Leon T. Silver, interviewed 5/5/02

Who said that first?
The first time I had to work alone with Gene [Cernan] and Jack [Schmitt] was in the San Gabriel Mountains behind Pasadena. After I got through with that exercise, I had the following impression. Gene was his own man. He was going to learn from Jack Schmitt, an experienced geologist, as much as he could. But he was a man of his own observations and his own opinions, and they were very good. When I got through, I had them do some similar things that gave me a basis for comparable comparisons, and Gene, at this stage, was quite good. I’m not going to compare him to Jack. Jack knew so much more than he did. But at a comparable stage to 13 or 15 or 16, even, he was good.

And from then on, through the whole training experience—and I did not run most of the exercises that they were on, but I ran several—I found that I could get value from Gene’s comments, and I wasn’t expecting Jack to be the voice of the team, and Gene Cernan as commander would never allow him to be the voice of the team, and I found him to be very, very good. So Gene did a first-rate job, from my point of view as a science trainer….

I ran into a very interesting difficulty. Their voices have very similar timbres, and telling them apart was, “Who said that first?” And they saw interesting things. There was a station on their second EVA called Station 4, Shorty Crater, the crater with the dark rim around it. We thought it might be something that we had anticipated on the Moon, but we had never found: a volcanic crater, as opposed to an impact crater. But it wasn’t. It was a crater which had a very distinctive deposit that had been thrown out of the crater.

Boy, was I excited
And these guys drove up to the rim of Shorty’s Crater—and now I’m going to run into trouble. Somebody said, “Look down there. It’s orange.” I don’t know whether that was Gene or Jack. I think Jack said it, but I’m not sure.

That got us terribly excited. Now, why? Well, you have to be geological to know this, and that is that in basaltic craters on Earth where water is present, the presence of steam coming up through the black rocks contributes to the oxidation of the iron in the rocks and turns them reddish-orange. Boy, was I excited. Finally we’d gotten to a place where we were defining some evidence of oxidation, some water. By the time we started Apollo 17, we had the impression the Moon was waterless, it was oxygen-less except for the oxygen incorporated in the minerals in the rocks, and here was something new.

I got very excited. I was dead wrong. In fact, I was jumping up and down, and I was calling out to the PI, and it was then he had to talk to Jim Lovell [CapCom]. I said, “Get them to take a core. Get them to take a core. Get them to take a core.” Well, they knew enough to take the core without my having to say a damn thing, and Bill Muehlberger, Bill’s a big guy, Bill just pushed me down in my seat, and he did exactly the right thing, because they did take care of it. They did it all well.

Hey, I see orange out here, too
It turned out to be orange glass and zillions, ten-to-the-fourth zillions, of little beads. We didn’t know it at the time. Some of the beads were black. The black halo came from the black beads, and the crater had dumped into a layer.

Flying overhead was the command module pilot, Ron Evans. Ron heard these guys excited about orange stuff, and he was flying over the rim of Mare Serenitatis, and he said, “Hey, I see orange out here, too.” And he looks, sees orange. He took pictures which showed that.

Apparently there’d been a major, major event. This was a volcanic event. These were volcanic deposits of beads, of melt, coming out into the vacuum of the lunar environment forming perfect little spheres. That’s one way to make ball bearings. Subsequently, we learned that the color came from the presence, instead of an oxidized state, the presence of titanium 3, a very reduced state of titanium, and it was one of the most important discoveries we had there.

Read Lee Silver's oral history transcript: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/history/oral_histories/SilverLT/silverlt.pdf

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Apollo 17 Information at JSC
The Apollo 17 Mission
http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/history/apollo/apollo17/index.html

 

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