HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — As much as things change, they stay the same. Space exploration pushes the bounds of technology and innovation. Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt says it always has, and when he looks at the young researchers and engineers working on the Artemis program, he sees their Apollo predecessors.
It’s time to return to the moon.
“It’s really amazing to me how fast 50 years has gone, and how much has happened in those years,” Schmitt said.
Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt visited the U.S. Space and Rocket Center on Wednesday, Dec. 7, the 50th launch anniversary of Apollo 17. He shared memories of his mission and provided insight into NASA’s journey back to the lunar surface.
“Going out to the launch pad, in order to move the elevator up into the capsule you have above you, that was an interesting experience,” Schmitt said. “There was no one else out there, except for the white room crew that was going to help us strap into the command module.”
The Apollo 17 crew faced a unique navigational challenge: landing the lunar module in the Taurus-Littrow Valley, a hole deeper than the Grand Canyon.
“It was of course young people who figured out and met how to do that,” Schmitt said.
Schmitt is a professional geologist, the only one to ever step foot on the moon. He was a scientist chosen by NASA to become an astronaut after assisting the crew of Apollo 11 from the ground as the Mission Scientist.
Schmitt’s lunar mission placed a heavy emphasis on scientific experiments and research. According to the Lunar and Planetary Institute, the Apollo 17 crew collected more than 700 lunar rock and soil samples.
“Samples that were brought back by the Apollo missions continue to be the gift that keeps on giving,” Schmitt said. “There are thousands of researchers, several generations through that time that have benefited through their careers by being able to work on those samples.”
As time has passed, Schmitt said technology has improved, providing the opportunity in front of us today, but with that opportunity comes a modern obstacle. The private sector is working to push space technology forward, and NASA has to work to integrate those advancements with Artemis.
“I am very confident that the young people working on that today will meet that challenge,” Schmitt said.
According to Schmitt, 26 was the average age of the NASA employees who made Apollo 17 a possibility. He said it’s students and young adults, many of who learned in the Rocket City, who are pushing research and development forward today.
“Space Camp starts to germinate within them, I think, the enthusiasm and interest, not only in space, but also doing great things with their lives,” Schmitt said. “Whether they go in and do space or not is not so important as stimulating in them the desire to do great things.”
NASA has plans to send an Artemis Mission to the south pole of the moon, and Schmitt said the landing will pose different challenges from the spot in which he and his crew landed.
“Many things are going to be different,” Schmitt said. “I’ve actually recommended some baby steps before we try to challenge the south pole.”
He said he has concerns about the lighting conditions. They are often poor and liable to change quickly. Schmitt cautions restraint, but the Artemis teams are pushing forward.
“Every event that it takes to successfully land on the moon represents something that has to go successfully,” Schmitt said. “Apollo learned that. And it’s time, I think, for another generation not only to learn it but to take it on as their challenge.”
The Orion Spacecraft is scheduled to return to Earth on Sunday. Splashdown in the Pacific Ocean is set to occur at 10:43 a.m. CST, completing Artemis Phase I. The primary objective of the mission has been to ensure a crew could safely reenter Earth’s atmosphere in the module, descent, splashdown, and be recovered.
Artemis I is the first of a series of missions to bring mankind back to the moon and open the door to future Mars exploration.