Apollo 17 Crew Selection

The cancellation of three Apollo missions and the reshuffling of the surviving missions, ending with Apollo 17, caused considerable consternation in the Astronaut Office. Eugene Cernan, Ron Evans and Joe Engle had been backup crew for Apollo 14 and, based on Deke Slayton's established crew rotation, these three would be the prime crew for Apollo 17. However, high level discussions had been taking place in Houston regarding the last crew. Johnson Space Center Director Robert Gilruth and Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight, Dale Myers, agreed that Harrison "Jack" Schmitt should be part of that crew. Schmitt had come to NASA from the USGS in 1965 as part of the first group of scientist-astronauts, culled from 1,400 original applicants. It was a very select group of six candidates announced in June of that year. It included Joseph Kerwin, Edward Gibson, Curtis Michel, Duane Graveline, Owen Garriott and Schmitt, who was the only trained geologist.

Schmitt had helped to develop the geologic field training program for the Apollo

Boeing technicians prepare to remove LRV-3 from its shipping fixture using the Sling Hoist in order to secure it to the Handling and Installation Tool (HIT). The LRV remained on the HIT for the remainder of its inspections, equipment checkout, and mission simulations. (NASA)

astronauts. He had also been involved in overseeing the development of the ALSEP by Bendix Aerospace. Each Apollo astronaut was assigned to oversee the development of either particular hardware that the astronauts would use directly, or hardware that would be used in support of the mission. This proved to be a brilliant stroke because it gave the Astronaut Office an inside man who would know a specific piece of equipment or system intimately and who could convey the progress or development problems to the other astronauts who would be using it. This kept all the astronauts in the loop with regard to the equipment they would all be using during their missions.

The crew of Apollo 15 had returned from their immensely successful mission on 7 August 1971 and the Apollo 16 crew of Young, Duke and Mattingly were in the midst of their mission training. It was rumored that Slayton would soon make his announcement regarding the crew selection for Apollo 17, the last American mission to the Moon for what would likely be many years. Gilruth and Myers had made it clear to Slayton that they wanted Schmitt on the crew of Apollo 17. Slayton had immense respect for Gilruth and Myers and their views carried considerable weight. In the first week of August, Slayton telephoned Cernan and Evans with the news. Slayton congratulated Cernan, saying that Apollo 17 was his to command and that Ron Evans would be his Command Module Pilot. But Slayton needed to discuss the selection of Lunar Module Pilot. Cernan was in Slayton's office in Houston the next day and Slayton told him that Jack Schmitt was the choice for Lunar Module Pilot. Cernan was surprised, but accepted the decision. On 12 August 1971, Schmitt received the call from Slayton informing him that he had been selected to be Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 17 and the following day, Slayton formally announced the three as the prime crew of Apollo 17. The backup crew would be John Young and Charlie Duke, the prime crew of Apollo 16, along with Stuart Roosa.

"The neatest thing about Schmitt going on Apollo 17 was that he was a professional geologist,'' said Bill Muehlberger, Principal Investigator of the Field Geology Team on Apollo 16 and 17, to this author during our interview. "I can't think of anyone else in the world at that time who was better qualified to go to the Moon and do geology.''

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