This week we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing and its unique connection to Northern Arizona. Everyone who walked on the moon first trained in Flagstaff. That’s partly because the U.S. Geological Survey’s Branch of Astrogeology was here. Carolyn Shoemaker’s late husband Gene founded the branch. She remembers that exciting time in history. Gerald Schaber was a geologist with the branch and trained crews of astronauts of Northern Arizona’s dramatic landscapes of volcanoes and craters. They’re today’s voices in our weeklong series.
My name is Carolyn Shoemaker…. The Apollo era was something I wish everyone could experience. We were fortunate here in Flagstaff to be able to participate in so much of it…. It was fun to meet a lot of the astronauts, and it was fun to hear my husband talk about what they did in the Apollo program, what their enthusiasms were… They went to Meteor Crater and of course round here there were other things like Sunset Crater and the lava flows. They went down into the Grand Canyon to see what formations looked like, how they could stack up and what you could expect if you saw anything like that….
In the Geological Survey when Gene started the branch, it was with the idea that we were going to go to the Moon, and we needed to find out everything we could. And that was a strange thing at the beginning, because older geologists were not interested in doing that, and exploring it. They sort of thought it was a cockeyed idea, I think. They didn’t want to risk their career on it. So the Branch was made up of a lot of younger geologists, who were fascinated with the idea and thought it would be exciting, and discovered it was indeed.
GERALD G. SCHABER
My name is Gerald G. Schaber. I came here in 1965 to work for the Branch of Astrogeology.
All of us that were hired, we were given one of the quadrangles on the moon to map. I was also assigned when I first got here to map north of Winslow in the Navajo Nation, in the Hopi Buttes area, because we were developing test sites for future astronaut training sites out there.
First we had our own geologists, who’d get suited up, and unfortunately the suits they had to wear out in Hopi Buttes were the Mercury and Gemini type suits. They weren’t made for walking. They were made of sitting. It was very hot out there. We had several of our people out in those space suits trying to learn how hard it would be to pick up rocks in a space suit and describe things over a voice link. I remember one day one of our guys passed out in a suit, and another one said he poured a gallon of sweat out of his boot when we took off his boot.
We trained groups of astronauts in those early days…. It’s a perfect place, because you can get in your car and go see what the mappers were doing at Lowell; Meteor Crater’s right out here; Sunset Crater erupted in 1064 and threw out all this wonderful ash that looks just like the lunar surface. I don’t think there could been a better place.
Tomorrow we hear from two USGS retirees about what it meant to see Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin step onto the surface of the moon. Today’s audio postcard was produced by KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny.