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Apollo 17 carried a Flagstaff geologist to the moon fifty years ago today

An astronaut in a dust-covered suit uses a long metal scoop to sample moon dust, on a grey, rocky lunar surface.
European Space Agency
NASA astronaut Harrison Schmitt, Apollo 17 lunar module pilot, uses an adjustable sampling scoop to retrieve lunar samples during the second Apollo 17 extravehicular activity, at Station 5 at the Taurus-Littrow landing site.

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of Apollo 17’s launch to the moon. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports, it was the last lunar mission and carried an astronaut with close ties to Flagstaff.

Harrison “Jack” Schmitt was working in the astrogeology program at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff when he volunteered for the astronaut corp.

Schmitt recalls moonwalking at the landing site, Taurus Littrow. "The valley we were in, the valley of Taurus Littrow, actually is deeper than the Grand Canyon…. So it’s really a spectacular place, because those mountains—the way the valley’s orientated—were illuminated by a sun that’s brighter than any Arizona or directional sun that you could imagine, but it’s all set against this blacker than black sky. It’s unbelievable," he says.

Schmitt collected orange glass beads from the surface that provided evidence for the moon’s volcanic history. He is still the only geologist and one of just 12 people who has ever walked the moon.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.