Earth Notes: Jack Schmitt

Jul 17, 2019

The moon may be an average of 238,900 miles away, but Flagstaff has a much closer connection to the lunar body. That’s because a scientist who lived here decades ago was recruited by NASA to become an astronaut in the Apollo space program.

Jack Schmitt on the moon
Credit NASA

Geologist Harrison “Jack” Schmitt worked at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff in the 1960s. The lunar geology community felt strongly that a trained geologist should visit the Moon. An expert eye was needed to find valuable samples in the short time the astronauts had there. Schmitt was chosen to be that astronaut in June 1965.

Northern Arizona’s role in the Apollo program was already significant—spacesuits and rovers had been tested at the nearby Cinder Lake crater field. And all the astronauts who made the first Moon landing on July 20, 1969, trained here.

Schmitt was in a different group. He was initially to fly on Apollo 18, until that mission and the Apollo 19 flight were cancelled. Instead, he flew on Apollo 17, and walked on the Moon in December 1972—the only professional scientist to have that privilege.

His historic trip paid off. He collected the rock sample that showed the Moon once possessed an active magnetic field.  

He also said he took the iconic photograph that became known as “The Blue Marble,” looking back at Earth from space and providing a strikingly different perspective of the rock we call home.

Jack Schmitt went on to serve as a U.S. senator from New Mexico, and lives there to this day.