Catalyst News

Apollo 17: Tracing the Last Footprints on the Moon

by Catalyst Corporate | Dec 03, 2019

It was this week, 47 years ago, that Harrison Schmitt and his fellow astronauts made preparations for the launch of Apollo 17, the United States’ final manned mission to the moon.

After spanning the 240,000-mile void, Schmitt and Eugene Cernan spent three days on the dusty lunar surface – their footprints were the last.  

But while he was on the moon, Schmitt bounded in the low gravity and even fell to the ground. Fortunately, the space suit was not damaged, and Schmitt was able to complete three moon walks. He even drove a lunar rover some 20 miles across the surface of the moon – after repairing a broken fender with duct tape and cardboard that was needed to help keep moon dust from covering the vehicle.

Schmitt recently shared some “down-to-Earth” insights with the nearly 250 credit union attendees at Catalyst Corporate’s annual Economic & Payments Forum. Harrison Schmitt

During his hour-long presentation, Schmitt, a Harvard-trained geologist, turned astronaut, turned U.S. Senator, turned author noted: “We were in a valley deeper than the Grand Canyon, with mountains on either side. The brilliant sun was illuminating all the slopes…and this was all against a blacker than black sky, with Earth hanging over the valley.” But the mission was more than sight-seeing.

In addition to setting up scientific instruments, the crew was supposed to bring chunks of the moon back to Earth. “When faced with a big project, send in the professionals,” Schmitt said. While most of the other astronauts were former test pilots, Schmitt was the only scientist sent to the moon. And so, when hunting rocks, a geologist – like Schmitt – was a logical choice.

While on the moon, Schmitt and Cernan collected more than 200 pounds of lunar rocks for study here on Earth. In fact, NASA has just commissioned a study of some lunar materials that have remained vacuum-sealed since brought to Earth in 1972.

Schmitt said he may have experienced an allergic reaction to moon dust after removing his helmet aboard the lunar landing module and accidentally inhaling some of the falling dust from his space suit. “First time I smelled the dust, I had an allergic reaction. The inside of my nose became swollen, you could hear it in my voice,” he recalled.

Allergies – and other assorted risks – aside, it is time to go back to the moon, Schmitt said, as he briefly spoke about the next planned moon mission, Artemis, scheduled to launch in 2024.

“We now have an administration that seems committed to getting us back to the moon and to using that experience not only for science, but also to prepare for a mission to Mars,” Schmitt told the attendees. “There is a lot to learn and, ultimately, if we want to go to Mars, we have to continue to use the moon as a learning experience.”

It was translatable advice to the credit union professionals who had attended the 42nd annual event to learn more about economic conditions on the horizon, the latest payment trends and a little wisdom from outer space.

Next year’s Economic & Payments Forum will be held Oct. 5-8 at the Omni Hotel in Frisco, Texas. Registration will open March 1, 2020, but mark your calendars now, because the countdown has already started!