A Dynamic Career Launched with a Map

Release Date:

An Apollo inspirational story for career goals:

Dr. Baerbel Lucchitta of the USGS Astrogeology team contributed to Apollo 17 in a transformative time for women and working.  The career choice and the work Baerbel performed was an important role model to women who shunned traditional careers during the 60s.

Dr. Baerbel .Lucchitta

Photo of Dr.Lucchitta, taken in the Cinder Field, at the time when Jack Schmitt and Gene Shoemaker were going to drive "Grover", (a model of the lunar vehicle to be driven on the Moon) which sits in the lobby of USGS Astrogeology Science Center today! The picture was taken in fall 1972, before the Apollo 17 mission.

Born in Münster, Germany, the launch of Baerbel's career rocketed in America, when women in science were just beginning to make their marks in the geology and planetary science disciplines, primarily dominated by men. Baerbel went where few women had gone before, to perform geologic research and to map strange worlds.

Chance of a lifetime:

After she earned a Ph.D. in Geology, in 1966, at Pennsylvania State University, she worked for Astrogeology Science Center, in 1967, as a lunar mapper. Baerbel was assigned to prepare a geologic map for a candidate landing site for Apollo 17. Little did she know the tides would shift direction when Jack Schmitt, the Apollo 17 geologist and NASA astronaut, would come to Flagstaff to attend a lunar site selection meeting.

“I was at the meeting, sitting in the background among all the other non-important people,” Dr. Lucchitta humbly said.

During this meeting, Baerbel observed that Jack Schmitt expressed great interest in going to the Taurus-Littrow valley on the Moon. Her intuition told her that this was going to be the landing site selected and therefore she wanted to prepare the geologic map for this site. However, she had already been assigned to map another potential landing site, and had to convince her supervisor to let her change the assignment, even though her intuition could be wrong.

1:50,000 geologic map of of the Taurus-Littrow valley site--The Moon

Baerbel's reassignment was approved and she wasted no time producing the 1:50,000 geologic map, above, with fine detail of the Taurus-Littrow valley site. Above and beyond her dreams, Taurus-Littrow valley was indeed chosen as the final landing site for Apollo 17, beating out Alphonsus and Gassendi. Additionally, this was to be the last lunar landing of the Apollo Program.

“The construction of the map launched my career, “Dr. Lucchitta said. “Female intuition helped.”