Harrison Hagan “Jack” Schmitt was born July 3, 1935 in Santa Rita, New Mexico. Jack grew up in nearby Silver City before attending the California Institute of Technology. He graduated with a degree in geology in 1957 and then spent a year in Norway studying geology at the University of Oslo.
After returning to America, Jack went on to receive his Ph.D. in geology from Harvard University in 1964 based on his geological studies in Norway.
Then Jack went to work for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Center at Flagstaff, Arizona where he became project chief for lunar field geological methods and participated in photo and telescopic mapping of the Moon leading up to the Moon missions.
He then became one of the USGS astrogeologists instructing NASA astronauts during their geological field trips around the world.
Dr. Jack Schmitt was selected as a scientist-astronaut by NASA in June of 1965.
He went on to complete a 53-week course in flight training at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona logging more than 2,100 hours of flying time including 1,600 hours in jet aircraft.
In addition to his training for a future manned space flight, Jack became instrumental in providing Apollo flight crews with detailed instruction in lunar navigation, geology, and feature recognition.
Jack also assisted in the integration of scientific activities into the Apollo lunar missions and participated in research activities requiring geologic, petrographic, and stratigraphic analyses of samples returned from the moon by Apollo missions.
He then was assigned as the backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 15.
Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans, and former X-15 pilot Joe Engle had been assigned to the backup crew of Apollo 14.
Following the rotation pattern that a backup crew would fly as the prime crew three missions later, Cernan, Evans, and Engle were originally slated for Apollo 17.
As Jack Schmitt had served on the backup crew of Apollo 15, following the normal crew rotation cycle, he was slated to fly as Lunar Module Pilot on Apollo 18.
However, Apollo 18 was cancelled in September of 1970.
Following this decision, the scientific community pressured NASA to assign a geologist to an Apollo landing, as opposed to a pilot trained in geology.
In light of this pressure, Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, a professional geologist, was assigned the Lunar Module Pilot position on Apollo 17 along with Commander Eugene Cernan and Command Module Pilot Ronald Evans.
This meant that Jack would be the first and last of NASA’s scientist astronaut group to fly in space on the Apollo 17 mission slated for December of 1972.
Apollo 17 would be the final mission of the Apollo lunar landing program, the final crew launch of a Saturn V rocket, the sixth landing of humans on the Moon, the third mission to use the Lunar Roving Vehicle, as well as the first night launch of an American human spaceflight.
“The Blue Marble”
Apollo 17 launched at 12:33 am Eastern Standard time on December 7, 1972.
Then at 5:39 am EST, some 5 hours and 6 minutes after the launch and about 1 hour and 54 minutes after Apollo 17 left Earth orbit to begin its trajectory to the Moon, a photograph was taken of our planet at a distance of about 28,000 miles.
The image is one of the few to show a fully illuminated Earth, as Apollo 17 had the Sun behind it.
The photograph’s official NASA designation is AS17-148-22727. (NASA photograph AS17-148-22726, taken just before and nearly identical to 22727, is also used as a full-Earth image.)
The photograph was originally oriented with the south pole at the top, with the island of Madagascar visible just left of center, and the continent of Africa at its right. However, the image was turned upside-down to fit our traditional view of Earth.
The photograph was taken with a 70-millimeter Hasselblad camera and an 80-millimeter Zeiss lens.
NASA officially credits the image to the entire Apollo 17 crew – all of whom took photographs during the mission with the on-board Hasselblad. Although evidence examined after the mission suggests that it was likely Jack Schmitt.
To the astronauts aboard Apollo 17, our planet had the appearance and size of a glass marble, hence the photos popular name – “The Blue Marble.”
The photo has become one of the most widely distributed photographic images in existence.
Cernan and Schmitt spent just over three days on the lunar surface in the Taurus-Littrow valley, conducted three moonwalks during which they collected lunar samples and deployed scientific instruments.
Jack Schmitt became the twelfth man to set foot on the Moon, as Apollo 17 remains the most recent manned Moon landing.
Apollo 17 returned to Earth on December 19, 1972 and as of 2013, Jack Schmitt remains the only professional geologist to visit the Moon.
After the completion of Apollo 17, Jack played an active role in documenting the Apollo geologic results and also took on the task of organizing NASA’s Energy Program Office.
In August 1975, Jack Schmitt resigned from NASA to seek election as a Republican to the United States Senate representing New Mexico. Schmitt faced two-term Democratic incumbent, Joseph Montoya, whom he defeated 57% to 42%. He served one term and, notably, was the ranking Republican member of the Science, Technology, and Space Subcommittee.
Following his Senate term, Jack Schmitt has been a consultant in business, geology, space, and public policy.
In 2006, Jack Schmitt wrote a book entitled “Return to the Moon: Exploration, Enterprise, and Energy in the Human Settlement of Space.”
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