Preparing for the task

The two astronauts would eventually spend a total of seventy-five hours on the Moon, and were engaged in lunar extravehicular activity (LEVA) outside Challenger for twenty-two of those hours. At first, Cernan expressed surprise at the glittering appearance of the lunar soil, saying it looked like millions of tiny diamonds, but Schmitt was a little more pragmatic, and stated that it was in fact microscopic beads of glass reflecting sunlight. "[The soil looks] like a vesicular, very light-coloured porphyry of some kind. It's about ten or fifteen per cent vesicles [porous volcanic rock].''

The crew's first scheduled task was to unload their Lunar Rover, which was stowed outside the Lunar Module, "like a piano tied to a truck,'' as Cernan later said when describing the job ahead of them. Using a series of lanyards, cables and hinges, they succeeded in lowering the ungainly machine to the Moon's surface and carefully assembled it, ready for the first of their three LEVAs. Cernan bounded into the driver's seat, switched on the batteries, and noted to his relief that all seemed to be in order. Electric motors on each wheel gave them driving power, so Cernan took the vehicle on a short test run, and reported that it worked perfectly in forward and reverse.

Once the rover was loaded up for their first expedition, Cernan teased his com panion a little, feeling he was too busy being a geologist to truly appreciate where they were. ''Hey Jack, just stop. You owe yourself thirty seconds to look up over the South Massif at the Earth.''

''What? The Earth?'' Schmitt replied. ''Just look up there,'' Cernan insisted.

''You seen one Earth, you've seen them all,'' Schmitt replied, somewhat flippantly. Chided for this seemingly blase reaction in Cernan's later autobiography, Schmitt revealed there was actually a reason behind his comment. His commander may not have thought he was looking up, but ''he didn't know I was!

''I always had a plan to do a lot of Earth observation on the way to the Moon, and that keeps you occupied, until you fully adapt. And so I had been looking at the Earth; I filled pages of air-to-ground transcript. Gene and Ron may not have been aware that I was doing as much as I was, and so when Gene made that comment on the surface of the Moon [and] I said something like 'you've seen one Earth you've seen them all' -[I was] being facetious about it. But it was mainly because I had already gotten through that particular thing and, being a geologist ... you are used to thinking of the Earth as a body in space, as a whole body. If you haven't had that kind of intellectual experience before, it's a surprise to see it.''12

The proudest moment

Prior to leaving their Challenger base, the two astronauts hammered a thin metal shaft into the ground and inserted an American flag. This flag had actually been carried to the Moon and back by the crew of Apollo 11, and it had been hanging in Mission Control in Houston since that time. Now it was back on the Moon forever. ''This is one of the proudest moments of my life,'' Cernan remarked, as he and Schmitt unfurled the flag.

The two men then drove to an area where they were scheduled to deploy and activate a science station known as ALSEP (Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package), powered by a small nuclear reactor. This station included experiments to investigate gravity wave-induced oscillations, active and passive seismic activity, the composition of the thin lunar atmosphere, micrometeorite impact rates, heat flow from the lunar interior, and neutron and cosmic ray fluxes. As they were unloading their gear, the handle of a rock hammer in Cernan's suit pocket snagged on one of the rover's rear fenders, dragging it off. He quickly repaired it with duct tape and then began the laborious task of boring through rock with a special cordless drill in order to set up the ALSEP. He had to drill two 2.5 m holes, about 8 m apart, for the heat-flow probe, and then a slightly deeper one in which he would insert a probe for measuring the rate at which cosmic rays produce neutrons at various depths in the regolith. It also provided a core sample for later analysis back on Earth. Schmitt, meanwhile, was fully engaged in erecting the gravity-wave detector. It was arduous work for both men, and when it was completed they were forty minutes behind their LEVA schedule.

Re-boarding the Lunar Rover, the two men heard that, because of the delay, plans for a mile-and-a-half trip to another crater had been curtailed, and they were directed to a nearby boulder field near the crater Stenno. Following their examination of the area, and gathering up some rock samples, they pressed on, but as they passed over a flat area the broken fender fell off, and the two astronauts were showered with a thick plume of dark soil. Apart from getting covered with grime, the astronauts knew they had to make repairs to the rover, as the dirt would make its way into some of the sensitive instruments they carried and cause them to fail. Filthy and exhausted, they arrived back at Challenger and cleaned each other off with a large brush they'd hung by the ladder for this very purpose.

The following day, Cernan and Schmitt rigged up a makeshift fender for the rover, manufactured from their stiff geologic maps. The repair job was effective, and they set off to do some more work on their second LEVA. This time the rover took them nearly five miles from the Challenger to the South Massif, where they sampled boulders at the base of the south wall of the valley and explored an avalanche deposit that had moved out away from the Massif. Cernan used a rock hammer and a set of tongs for most of his sampling, while Schmitt preferred a long-handled scoop with an adjustable head. They both had chest-mounted, 60 mm electric drive Hasselblad cameras to record their findings and any items or scenery of interest. Cernan's camera was loaded with colour film, while Schmitt's used black-and-white film for subsequent photometric measurements of materials in place. As Schmitt recalls, they worked well as a team.

''At most sampling sites we generally worked together, using a specific sampling and documentation routine that provided significantly greater efficiency than working alone. While Gene dusted off the equipment on the rover, I would look over the sampling area, giving a general description of the geology and what we would try to do. Then, I would take a down-sun photo while Gene took a cross-sun stereo pair of photos of the area to be sampled. One of us would pick up rock or soil samples while the other held a numbered Teflon sample bag open to receive the sample. After stowing the bagged samples in larger bags mounted on our backpacks, one of us would take both a post-sampling photo to show which samples had been collected, and a circular panorama that included the site. A running dialogue of each step in the operation as well as other geological observations accompanied this process. The rover's colour television camera, operated remotely from Earth, followed most of our activities, providing both additional scientific documentation and many humorous clips of our pratfalls to delight future audiences.''8

Finding orange soil

As the two weary astronauts returned from the South Massif, Schmitt was preparing to take some more photographs. All of a sudden he began to cry out with surprised delight. He was about to announce finding something that certainly seemed to justify sending a scientist to the Moon.

''Hey!'' he exclaimed, as he kicked over an interesting patch of dirt. ''It's orange. I found orange soil!'' Everyone back at Mission Control sat up with the excitement evident in Schmitt's voice.

Cernan moved over to join Schmitt. ''Well, don't move till I see it,'' he said, and Schmitt repeated, ''It's all over orange!'' Once again Cernan told Schmitt to wait until he could also see the orange soil. With Cernan by his side, Schmitt remarked, ''I stirred

It was in this area at Station 4 (Shorty Crater) that Schmitt discovered traces of orange soil during the second lunar EVA. The tripod-like object is a gnomon and photometric chart assembly used as a photographic reference to establish local vertical Sun angle, scale and lunar colour. Although it cannot be seen in this monochrome photo, the orange soil is situated midway between the gnomon and the small boulder at the bottom right.

It was in this area at Station 4 (Shorty Crater) that Schmitt discovered traces of orange soil during the second lunar EVA. The tripod-like object is a gnomon and photometric chart assembly used as a photographic reference to establish local vertical Sun angle, scale and lunar colour. Although it cannot be seen in this monochrome photo, the orange soil is situated midway between the gnomon and the small boulder at the bottom right.

it up with my feet!'' By scuffing around in the surface with his boot, Schmitt and Cernan could see soil ranging in colour from orange to almost a ruby red. Cernan felt the excitement of discovery as well. "Hey, it is! I can see it from here.'' "It's orange!'' Schmitt said once again, almost in disbelief. Cernan began fumbling with the gold visor on his helmet. "Wait a minute, let me put my visor up.'' There was a slight pause, and then he affirmed the discovery. "It's still orange.''

Schmitt collects a soil sample on the south side of the rim boulders at Station 5.

Finding this orange soil caused tremendous excitement at the time, and Schmitt was hoping it might provide proof of relatively recent volcanic activity in the area. To their moderate disappointment, the soil would later prove to be a series of microscopic glass spheres and fragments tinted by titanium and intermixed with black or blackspeckled grains. It was about the same age as other rock material in the vicinity, and very similar to samples taken from the Sea of Tranquillity, several hundred miles to the south-west, by the crew of Apollo 11. Unlike the Apollo 11 samples, these spheres were found to be curiously rich in zinc but, as Schmitt said in 1996: ''This chemically unusual material from 3.5 billion-year-old volcanic fire fountains has given new insights into the origin of the Moon and the nature of its interior.''

A panoramic shot at Station 7 shows Schmitt next to the Lunar Rover.

The crew's third LEVA provided them with an opportunity to study the large boulders that had rolled and bounced down the north wall of the valley. According to Schmitt, they ''hoped to learn more about what happens when large objects from space hit, break, and partially melt planetary crusts. During the detailed examination of one large boulder, the unexpected discovery of a subtle contact between two types of impact-generated debris units, one intrusive into the other, again proved the worth of the trained human eye in exploration.''

In their three expeditions into the valley, the two astronauts drove their Lunar Rover about nineteen miles. For around twenty-two hours of the seventy-five hours they spent on the Moon, the two men were engaged in LEVA, during which they collected a record cargo of more than 100 kg of priceless lunar rock and soil samples, and took over 2,400 photographs.

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