moon's river

  We're not talkin' Michael Jackson...
walking on the moonWe're talkin' Harrison Schmitt, true-to-life moonwalker. In an assignment far more hazardous than flying to the moon, Dr. Schmitt fielded questions tossed his way by Why Files readers. Here, uncensored and unvetted, is the exclusive Why Files readers' interview with the last guy to leave tracks on the moon.


  Q.

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Did you walk on the dark side of the moon? If so, how is it different from the other side of the moon?

Mrs. Jody Klare's Class 2nd Grade, Park School


  A. .
No Apollo missions landed on the dark side of the moon due to the need for light during landing of the lunar module. If you mean the "far side" of the moon, we would have needed special communications satellites to land there, out of sight of the Earth.

  Q.

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How did it feel when you stepped on the moon and tried to walk?

Joaquin Santiago


  A. .
Walking on the moon felt like walking on a giant's trampoline -- you are only one-sixth your weight but just as strong as on Earth. One could walk with great long strides like those of a cross-country skier, gliding just above the surface and across small craters and using a well-timed toe-push to accelerate to ever higher speeds and ever longer strides. Stopping was another matter! Just rotate so that your heels dig into the soft surface and you stop.

The part of the moon we visited looked like a high mountain valley with steep walls reaching over 7,000 feet above us, deeper than the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, and covered with a deep layer of bright new snow. The valley walls are set against a blacker than black sky (with) a blazing sun more brilliant than any New Mexico sun one can imagine. Of course, what looked like snow is a layer of rock dust with sparkling beads of glass caused by the meteor impacts that created the dust.

Being on the moon, in the spectacular valley of Taurus-Littrow, was like one of those events in life that are extraordinarily meaningful because they had far more impact on memory and emotion than one could have ever anticipated by talking to others, reading, viewing pictures, or just dreaming. Such experiences cannot be adequately described, but must be experienced.


  Q.

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How did it feel to look down on our planet? Was it a "spiritual" experience?

Barb


  A. .
Looking at the Earth from space, it is actually looking "up" when you are on the moon, gives you a wonderful view of our gorgeous home in space. Some astronauts have called it a spiritual experience, however, I was most impressed by how fortunate humankind had become to be granted the opportunity to explore and eventually live beyond our Earth.

  Q.

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A colleague of yours, Edgar Mitchell, has stated that he has a firm belief in UFOs. What is your opinion on the subject of UFOs?

Eric McCarthy


  A. .
The existence of intelligent life elsewhere in our universe is highly probable, given the huge number of sun-like stars that exist out there. That such life would visit our star and planet, however, is unlikely, but not impossible given the large number of choices it would have for such a visit. Further, the so-called UFO's have not done a very good job of communicating for life (that's) intelligent enough to travel between stars.

  Q.

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We are a high-school class and we are going on a class-trip. Would you recommend the moon as a proper place to go?

Class 9b at Parken High School


  A. .
The moon would be a great place to visit on a class trip. I will keep working to make that possible some day.

  Q.

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Personally and professionally, do you think the lunar excursions in the 70s were worth it? Why have the last 15 or 20 years concentrated on near-Earth orbit and unmanned satellites?

Morland P. Gonsoulin


  A. .
The lunar explorations during Apollo certainly were worth the effort and expense. We met President Kennedy's challenge to demonstrate the capability of American technology, we obtained a first order scientific understanding of the moon as a planet which has vastly increased our understanding of the Earth and other planets, and we discovered important resources there which may be critical to our future here on Earth as well as in space.

With the inappropriate cancellation of Apollo and the premature end of Skylab, the Shuttle Program became all we had to increase human experience in this new habitat for our species, and in that sense, it has been remarkably effective. Would I have planned things differently, given the chance? Yes. Is the shuttle and the International Space Station enough for the near future? I don't think so.


  Q.

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Were you ever able to really relax and enjoy the experience of just being on the moon, or was there just too much pressure to accomplish assigned tasks to bliss out?

Paul Baker


  A. .
We enjoyed the experience of just being on the moon while at the same time making sure that we wasted as little time as possible. Human beings are capable of operating on several levels simultaneously that include both work and pleasure.

  Q.

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I have heard rumors about people finding particles of ice on the moon. Is this true?

Joseph William Hunter


  A. .
No ice has been found on the moon, however, solar wind hydrogen (up to 146 ppm by weight) has been found in the lunar samples and two to six times more has been sensed from orbit at the lunar poles by the Lunar Prospector mission. All of this is very exciting and important for the future, however, NASA's statements that Prospector found "water ice" at the poles is merely an inference not a fact.

  Q.

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Do you think there is any reason for another manned mission to Earth's moon?

Robert W. Summers


  A. .
During the last 25 years, a new "space race" has become increasingly urgent. On the one hand, we face accelerating demands for energy arising from the increasing population of the Earth and from the aspirations of that population for a vastly improved quality of life. On the other hand, meeting such demands and aspirations through resources from space has become a real option available to us.

Associates at the University of Wisconsin's Fusion Technology Institute and I have spent the last several years examining the technical, political, environmental, and economic feasibility of a privately-financed return to the moon. This endeavor would be based on the viability of helium-3 (3He) fusion power, using lunar helium resources and inertial electrostatic confinement (IEC) fusion technology to produce environmentally sound power on Earth.

IEC fusion technology by itself has near-term applications in existing markets, particularly in less expensive medical diagnosis and treatment. Further, the space technologies and low-cost lunar byproducts (hydrogen, oxygen, and water) would enable further exploration and settlement of deep space, including the return of science to the moon, the possibility of low-cost tourism into Earth orbit, and protection from asteroid or comet collisions with the Earth.

Our goal for a return to deep space should be to join the Earth, moon and Mars into one environmental and human system, providing for the preservation of the human species and human freedom in the solar system as well as on Earth.


  Q.

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Does it get hot in the space suits?

  A. .
It could get hot in the space suit, but we had water-cooled underwear to take care of that. The space suit is like another spacecraft in the shape of an astronaut. It protects the astronaut from the vacuum of space, from the heat of the sun and the cold of deep space, and from the impact of micrometeors. It also provides connections to water for cooling, oxygen for breathing, filtering to removing carbon dioxide, communications links to Earth and other astronauts, and emergency oxygen for breathing and cooling. The space suit weighs about 370 pounds on Earth, but only about 61 pounds on the moon, and in space it weighs nothing, of course.

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