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Harrison Schmitt at Apollo 17

Harrison Schmitt at Apollo 17 (Space)

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Harrison Hagan "Jack" Schmitt (born Jul. 3, 1935 (85 years ago)) is an American geologist, a former NASA astronaut, University Professor and a U.S. Senator for one term.

He is the last of the Apollo astronauts to arrive and set foot on the Moon (crewmate Eugene Cernan exited the Apollo Lunar Module first). However, as Schmitt re-entered the module first, Cernan became the last astronaut to walk on and depart the moon. Schmitt is also the first—and so far only—person to have walked on the Moon who was never a member of the United States Armed Forces (he is not the first civilian; Neil Armstrong left military service prior to his landing in 1969 (51 years ago)).

Early life and education

Born in Santa Rita, New Mexico, Schmitt grew up in nearby Silver City. He received a B.S. degree in science from the California Institute of Technology in 1957 (63 years ago) and then spent a year studying geology at the University of Oslo in Norway. He received a Ph.D. in geology from Harvard University in 1964 (56 years ago), based on his geological field studies in Norway.

NASA career

Before joining NASA as a member of the first group of scientist-astronauts in Jun. 1965 (55 years ago), he worked at the U.S. Geological Survey's Astrogeology Center at Flagstaff, Arizona, developing geological field techniques that would be used by the Apollo crews. Following his selection, Schmitt spent his first year at Air Force UPT learning to become a jet pilot. Upon his return to the astronaut corps in Houston, he played a key role in training Apollo crews to be geologic observers when they were in lunar orbit and competent geologic field workers when they were on the lunar surface. After each of the landing missions, he participated in the examination and evaluation of the returned lunar samples and helped the crews with the scientific aspects of their mission reports.

Schmitt spent considerable time becoming proficient in the CSM and LM systems. In Mar. 1970 (50 years ago) he became the first of the scientist-astronauts to receive an assignment to either a backup or primary crew. He joined Richard F. Gordon, Jr. (Commander) and Vance Brand (Command Module Pilot) on the backup crew for Apollo 15 and was clearly in line to fly as Lunar Module Pilot on Apollo 18. After the cancellation of the Apollo 18 moon mission in sep. 1970 (50 years ago), it was widely expected that he would be assigned to fly on Apollo 17, the last lunar mission. That assignment was announced in Aug. 1971 (49 years ago). (Schmitt effectively replaced Joe Engle who had been in training with commander Gene Cernan as his Lunar Module Pilot.)

During Apollo 17's flight to the Moon in dec. 1972 (48 years ago), Schmitt is believed to have taken the photograph of the Earth known as The Blue Marble, one of the most widely distributed photographic images (wallpaper) in existence. (NASA officially credits the image (wallpaper) to the entire Apollo 17 crew; Schmitt claims that he personally took the image.)

While on the Moon's surface, Schmitt—the only geologist in the astronaut corps—collected the rock sample designated Troctolite 76535, which has been called "without doubt the most interesting sample returned from the Moon". Among other distinctions, it is the central piece of evidence suggesting that the Moon once possessed an active magnetic field.

As he returned to the Lunar Module before his crewmate Gene Cernan, Schmitt is the next-to-last person to have set foot on the moon's surface.

After the completion of Apollo 17, Schmitt played an active role in documenting the Apollo geologic results and also took on the task of organizing NASA's Energy Program Office.

Post-NASA career

In Aug. 1975 (45 years ago), Schmitt resigned from NASA to seek election as a Republican to the United States Senate representing New Mexico. Schmitt faced two-term Democratic incumbent, Joseph Montoya, whom he defeated 57% to 42%. He served one term and, notably, was the ranking Republican member of the Science, Technology, and Space Subcommittee. He sought a second term in 1982 (38 years ago), but due to a deep recession and concerns that he wasn't paying attention to local matters, he was defeated in a re-election bid by the state Attorney General Jeff Bingaman by a 54% to 46% margin. Bingaman's campaign slogan asked, "What on Earth has he done for you lately?". Following his Senate term, Schmitt has been a consultant in business, geology, space, and public policy.

He lives in Silver City, New Mexico, and spends some of his summer at his northern Minnesota lake cabin. He is also an advocate of returning to the moon (see Project Constellation), as the moon could be used as a source of helium-3, a rare isotope of helium that can be used as a fuel for nuclear fusion reactors.

Schmitt is chair of the NASA Advisory Council, whose mandate is to provide technical advice to the NASA Administrator. Schmitt is an adjunct professor of engineering physics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is the founder and serves as chairman of Interlune Intermars Initiative Inc., an organization whose goal is to advance the private sector’s acquisition and use of lunar resources.

Schmitt in popular culture

Schmitt was portrayed by Tom Amandes in the 1998 (22 years ago) miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.
Schmitt was mentioned in Maid in Arlen, an episode of King of the Hill.
He appeared in an episode of the TV show Bill Nye the Science Guy.
He was interviewed in the 2009 (11 years ago) BBC TV show James May on the Moon.
Schmitt was interviewed on the Alex Jones Radio show on Jul. 31, 2009 (11 years ago) regarding his opposition to the scientific theory of global warming. He admitted being a fan of the show, saying he "keeps up on things out here".


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