The Usgs Branch Of Astrogeology

In 1960, Eugene Shoemaker, one of the Survey's pre-eminent geologists, founded the Branch of Astrogeology in Menlo Park, California. Two years later, he moved the Branch's headquarters to Flagstaff, Arizona, one of the richest geologic locations in the entire United States. Flagstaff is situated at the foot of the San Francisco Peaks, a 3,850 m high dormant volcano that is surrounded by the extensive San Francisco Volcanic Field. This proved an ideal starting point for field training the astronauts to learn basic geologic procedures - to identify varied rocks and minerals by their appearance and structure, volcanic formations on the surface and much more. In 1962, NASA selected the U.S. Geologic Survey to provide training to the first class of astronauts. This was a victory for Shoemaker, who had initially encountered stiff resistance from Dyer Bainard Holmes, the head of NASA's Office of Manned Spaceflight. In 1965, Dr. Gerald G. Schaber would begin working for Shoemaker's fledgling Branch of Astrogeology in Flagstaff, just two years following that very first astronaut geologic field trip to Meteor Crater in 1963.

"Shoemaker was the one who first got the astronaut geologic training program started and was subsequently instrumental in convincing NASA to allow the astronauts to do some actual science while on the lunar surface,'' Schaber recalled

Daniel Milton Usgs

Eugene Shoemaker (center) established the Branch of Astrogeology within the United States Geologic Survey (USGS) in 1961. He is shown here with Ray Baston (right) and Elliot Morris discussing lunar mapping. Comprehensive mapping of the Moon and geologic field training of the Apollo astronauts by the USGS contributed immeasurably to the success of the manned lunar missions. (USGS)

Eugene Shoemaker (center) established the Branch of Astrogeology within the United States Geologic Survey (USGS) in 1961. He is shown here with Ray Baston (right) and Elliot Morris discussing lunar mapping. Comprehensive mapping of the Moon and geologic field training of the Apollo astronauts by the USGS contributed immeasurably to the success of the manned lunar missions. (USGS)

vividly. "Initially, some in NASA just wanted the astronauts to go without picking up a single rock. If it hadn't been for Shoemaker, they wouldn't have. He was a pain in their side because he wanted them to do some science while they were up there. We were doing astronaut training with our own geologists in spacesuits out at Hoppi Buttes and Meteor Crater east of Flagstaff starting in 1963. The first field test using actual spacesuits took place in June 1964 outside of Flagstaff, at Sunset Crater and Bonita Lava Flow in the Sunset Crater National Monument.''

Holmes left his position at the MSC in September 1963. His replacement, George Mueller, was more sympathetic to the idea of lunar geologic science and established the Office of Manned Space Science within the Manned Spacecraft Center. Formal classroom geologic training of the astronauts began at the MSC in Houston, Texas in 1964, under the direction of veteran USGS geologist, Dale Jackson. Classroom sessions were also conducted by Al Chidester, Don Wilhelms, Gordon Swann and Dan Milton, who introduced the astronauts to basic geologic concepts and such specific celestial activities as impact cratering. Jackson realized that test pilots and

Dan Milton Usgs
In 1965, the Branch of Astrogeology in Flagstaff received the Mobile Geologic Laboratory built by General Motors in Santa Barbara, California. It was built to help the USGS develop methods and procedures for manned lunar exploration for the Apollo program. (USGS)

astronauts needed classroom teaching, but felt just as strongly that he had to get them from behind their desks and exploring the surface of the Earth to gain better knowledge, which they could apply once on the surface of the Moon. In March of 1964, Jackson organized the first field trips to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The two trips to the Canyon included a who's who of the NASA astronaut corps: Buzz Aldrin, William Anders, Charles Bassett, Alan Bean, Eugene Cernan, Roger Chaffee, Michael Collins, Walter Cunningham, Don Eisele, Theodore Freeman, Richard Gordon, Russell "Rusty" Schweickart, David Scott, Clifton Williams, Wally Schirra, Deke Slayton, Gus Grissom, Gordon Cooper, Ed White, Frank Borman, Jim McDivitt, Jim Lovell, Pete Conrad, John Young and Tom Stafford. Other geologic trips that year were scheduled for Marathon Basin and Big Bend

Park in Texas, Philmont Boy Scout Ranch near Cimarron in New Mexico, San Francisco Volcanic Field outside Flagstaff, Newbury Crater at Bend in Oregon, and Valles Caldera in New Mexico.

That was also the year that a young graduate geology student, Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, wrote to Eugene Shoemaker in Flagstaff seeking a position in the Field Office. Shoemaker had written to Schmitt at exactly the same time after reviewing Schmitt's USGS exam results. Schmitt had been introduced to Shoemaker several years before while the senior geologist was tasked with mapping the Moon. After joining the USGS, Schmitt assisted Shoemaker in the geologic mapping of the Moon while also leading the Lunar Field Geological Methods project in Flagstaff. When NASA announced it was looking for scientist-astronauts in the later months of 1964, Schmitt decided to apply. He would have a bit of a wait to learn NASA's decision, however, since over one thousand interested individuals applied.

Shoemaker was actively searching for the best and the brightest geologic minds to join the USGS Branch of Astrogeology and to contribute to what would unarguably be the greatest feat of manned exploration ever undertaken. This was no secret to those in the geologic community in the United States. Don Wilhelms was working on this doctorate degree in geology at UCLA when he was interviewed by Shoemaker in 1962. Shoemaker was very impressed with Wilhelms' knowledge, but waited until the graduate student was on the verge of receiving his PhD before accepting his application to join the USGS. With his eye fixed to the Lick Observatory telescope on Mt. Hamilton in California, Wilhelms worked earnestly to contribute to the mapping of the Moon. He became actively involved in training the astronauts both in the classroom and the field. The Moon became Wilhelms' life and he joined a slowly growing cadre that included Dale Jackson, Gordon Swann, Elliott Morris, Don Elston, Al Chidester and Dan Milton at Menlo Park.

Throughout the early to mid-1960s, the USGS Branch of Astrogeology became a magnet for aspiring geologists, drawn by the lure of mapping the Moon, expanding our overall knowledge of Earth's nearest celestial body and actively participating in training the men who would travel there and explore its surface. Despite the fantastic nature of what had to be accomplished to get astronauts there, have them safely land on and then explore the Moon, and return them to Earth, the geologists at the USGS, and most of all Shoemaker himself, had supreme confidence that it could be accomplished. They were also very much aware that they would become active participants in one of the most historic events of the twentieth century. The group would eventually include, among others, Margaret Cox, Raymond Batson, Norman Bailey, Michael Carr, David Dahlem, Kenna Edmonds, Richard Eggleton, Richard Godson, Henry Holt, Keith Howard, Martin Kane, Thor Karlstrom, Ivo and Barbara Lucchitta, John McCauley, Harold Masursky, Henry Moore, Joseph O'Conner, Robert Regan, David Roddy, Lawrence Rowan, Gerald Schaber, David Schleicher, Hal Stephens, Robert Sutton, George Ulrich, and many more individuals. This geologic brain trust was not confined to PhD geologists, but also drew in cartographers, photographers, illustrators and other related disciplines all vital to the work that would go on at the USGS in support of the Apollo program and planetary exploration. Like the hundreds of thousands of other Americans

The Explorer was built by the Branch of Astrogeology Field Test Support Group in 1967 as the first vehicle to be used by Apollo astronauts for simulated lunar exploration training. Rutledge "Putty" Mills is shown here driving Explorer over a block lava flow north of Flagstaff, Arizona. Note the pistol grip vehicle controller (USGS)

involved with project Apollo, this period in their lives would become the most rewarding of their entire careers.

"The spirit of the Project Apollo can be best described by something that Gene Shoemaker, founder of the U.S. Geological Survey's Branch of Astrogeology, told his new recruits in the early 1960s,'' recalled Schaber. "He said 'You will be asked to far exceed your own perceived capabilities, in order to make the seemingly impossible a reality'.''

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