A difficult decision is made

Meanwhile both crews trained hard, seeking to impress on everyone that they were the best available for the job. Although it did not affect their back-up training for Apollo 15, the three men knew they were now in an undeclared competition with Cernan's crew for the last lunar landing mission.

One option was to replace Cernan's crew entirely with Gordon's coherent crew. Another option being mooted was to replace Joe Engle with Schmitt on Cernan's crew. Cernan certainly didn't help matters for his crew when he crashed a helicopter into the Banana River during training, but he didn't suffer any serious injuries or aftereffects, and seemed to escape any form of official censure, so the intense rivalry continued anew. "I didn't have any mixed feelings at all,'' Schmitt says of that anxious time. "We were competing for a slot. I understood how Joe would feel, but I wasn't about to give up the position because he might have felt disappointed.''8

By August 1971 it was time to announce the crew for Apollo 17, and Cernan's crew got the nod - with one exception. Lunar module pilot Joe Engle had been dropped to make way for Jack Schmitt. It later transpired that Slayton had originally submitted the Cernan-Evans-Engle crew to NASA headquarters as his recommendation, but it had been rejected. He was told in no uncertain terms to get Schmitt on the Moon, and his hands were officially tied, but he still chose Cernan and Evans over Gordon and Brand.10

Joe Engle was visibly upset for some time, and not a little bitter about the decision, but he finally came to accept the fact that he had been dropped from Apollo 17 for political reasons. When asked by a reporter how he felt about missing out on the flight, he said the toughest thing of all was telling his kids that daddy wasn't going to the Moon.

A month after the successful Apollo 15 mission, Schmitt had been sitting in his Nassau Bay apartment when friends started phoning and calling in to tell him that he had been selected as the Lunar Module pilot for Apollo 17, replacing Engle. "I had already, some years before, made the decision that if I wasn't assigned to a crew (and I didn't think the probability was very high at that time) then, like everybody else in Apollo, I still thought it was well worth dedicating that part of my life to it without any question.

"And so, in a sense, getting assigned to a mission was frosting on the cake. I had already done more than I had ever expected to have a chance to do and having a chance to actually now fly a mission was something that was far more than I had originally expected. Always hoped for, but never expected.''8

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