USGS Gave NASA the Right Stuff

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Sunday, July 20th, 2014, marked the 45th anniversary of the day the world stood still and watched astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin land on the surface of the Moon. There is no question that the partnership between NASA and the USGS was crucial to the Apollo program's accomplishments.


Image Dimensions: 1280 x 720

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Length: 00:03:30

Location Taken: Reston, VA, US


Sunday, July 20th marked the 45th†anniversary of the day the world stood still and watched astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin ìBuzzî Aldrin land on the surface of the Moon.  There is no question that the partnership between NASA and the USGS was crucial to the Apollo programís accomplishments.

The first attempt to map lunar features for scientific and engineering purposes started with the USGS in the 1950ís. The USGS accelerated its efforts after Soviet scientists launched "Sputnik" into orbit in 1957. Then-USGS Director Thomas Nolan said studies of the geography of outer space might soon inaugurate a new cycle in the history of the USGS.    In 1959 the Survey compiled a photogeologic map of the Moon and began studies of meteorites and impact craters.  

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy proposed "landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth"†before the end of the decade. That year, scientist Eugene M. Shoemaker created a USGS astrogeology science center in Flagstaff, AZ.  

A space enthusiast since pre-Sputnik days, Shoemaker had an eye on becoming a scientist-astronaut. Although he never realized that ambition, for seven years starting in 1962 he would contribute to the design of Apollo's lunar surface activities and help to train the men who would be his surrogates on the moon. 

When the USGS Center of Astrogeology was founded in Flagstaff, he was appointed its chief scientist and organized the geological activities planned for the lunar landings. Astronauts were schooled in basic and advanced geology at Flagstaff.

Although he retired from the USGS in 1993, Shoemaker continued to influence science in many ways even beyond his death.  He, his wife Carolyn, and a colleague discovered the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 which impacted Jupiter in 1994, giving the world of science a major new insight into both the dynamics of comets and the planetary science of Jupiter. Following his death in 1997, a small amount of his ashes was sent to the Moon. 

Twelve astronauts explored six areas of the lunar surface between July 1969 and December 1972.† Ridley worked with many astronauts, including another USGS geologist Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, who worked in Flagstaff, landed on the moon and later became a U.S. Senator. During the Apollo 17 mission with Schmitt on-board, the moonbuggy, or moon rover, lost a fender and the dust had to be minimized.  By improvising, the astronauts taped four laminated maps together to create a make-shift fender. Itís long believed these were USGS maps.  

Today, the USGS astrogeology program continues to participate in the collaborative planning and operation of space exploration missions. The primary research focus is explaining geological and geophysical processes on the rocky planets and satellites. Such research leads to a better understanding of the character of our neighboring planets, the origins of the solar system, and a better comprehension of our own planet, Earth.