Moonwalkers, part two

As we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, we continue with the second half of that most exclusive of clubs: men who have walked on the moon. (You can read about the first six moonwalkers here.)

BlueMarble

7. David R. Scott, mission commander, Apollo 15. Reached the moon July 31, 1971.

Although Dave Scott finished fifth in his class at West Point, he joined the Air Force instead of the Army in order to pursue his dream of becoming a jet pilot. By the time he took command of Apollo 15, Scott was already a space veteran — he had accompanied Neil Armstrong on the glitch-plagued Gemini 8 mission, and had become the last American to orbit the Earth solo as the command module pilot on Apollo 9. He became the first member of Astronaut Group 3 to command a mission, and the first astronaut to lead a so-called “J Mission,” with an extended stay on the lunar surface (Scott and teammate Jim Irwin spent nearly three full days on the moon) and use of the Lunar Rover excursion vehicle.

Beyond the moon: Scott’s NASA career came to an abrupt end due to what came to be known as the Apollo 15 postage stamp incident. Scott, with the knowledge of his crew, had smuggled 398 commemorative stamp covers on his trip to the moon, and later sold 100 of the covers to Hermann Sieger, a collectibles dealer from Germany. The action was neither illegal or forbidden by NASA protocol, but when certain members of Congress got wind of the back-door business deal, political furor and Capitol Hill hearings ensued. As a result, neither Scott nor his two crewmates ever flew another space mission. (The 100 “Sieger covers” are now valued at between $15,000 and $18,000 each.) Today, Scott lives in the Los Angeles area and is a frequent consultant on film and television projects. He is 77 years old.

8. James B. Irwin, lunar module pilot, Apollo 15. Reached the moon July 31, 1971.

Like Dave Scott, Jim Irwin graduated from another service academy — in Irwin’s case, the U.S. Naval Academy — before joining the Air Force. Apollo 15 was Irwin’s first and only spaceflight, though he played key backup roles in training for two prior Apollo missions. The scientific nature of this particular mission required Irwin and Scott to undergo extensive training in geology — training that led to their discovery and identification of the so-called Genesis Rock, a chunk of lunar material believed to date from the formation of the moon.

Beyond the moon: Although Irwin never flew another NASA mission because of the aforementioned stamp incident, it’s likely that he would have been decertified for space in any event. He experienced cardiac symptoms during his and Scott’s time on the moon, and suffered a heart attack a few months after their return to Earth. Resigning from NASA in 1972, Irwin began a new career in ministry. He later led several unsuccessful expeditions to Turkey in search of the wreckage of Noah’s ark. Jim Irwin succumbed to a heart attack at his Colorado home in 1991 — the first of the moonwalkers to die, as well as the youngest. He was 61.

9. John W. Young, mission commander, Apollo 16. Reached the moon April 21, 1972.

Navy test pilot John Young was one of the graybeards of the Apollo program. He had already been into space three times before his trip to the moon — as pilot alongside Mercury veteran Gus Grissom on the first manned Gemini mission (Gemini 3); as command pilot aboard Gemini 10; and as command module pilot on Apollo 10, the second and final lunar orbital mission before Apollo 11‘s historic landing. During the latter mission, Young became the first man to orbit the moon solo, as his colleagues tested the lunar module. Commanding Apollo 16 earned Young an additional distinction as the first individual to make a return trip to lunar orbit.

Beyond the moon: John Young may well hold the title of NASA’s busiest astronaut. He continued with the  program into the Space Shuttle era — the only Mercury veteran to do so — and was at the helm for the Shuttle’s first space mission as well as one later flight. The first individual to make six journeys into space, Young is also the only person to have piloted four different types of spacecraft — a Gemini capsule, both Apollo vehicles (the command module and the lunar module), and the Shuttle. He retired from NASA in 2004 after 42 years in the space program. Young still lives in Houston, and is 78 years old.

10. Charles M. Duke, Jr., lunar module pilot, Apollo 16. Reached the moon April 21, 1972.

A Naval Academy graduate and Air Force pilot, Charlie Duke was already familiar to followers of the space program before his rookie flight on Apollo 16. It was Duke’s Carolina drawl at Mission Control that viewers heard speaking with Armstrong and Aldrin during the Apollo 11 moon landing. (Astronauts were frequently assigned capsule communicator, or “CAPCOM,” duties for flights on which they were not the designated backup crew.) Duke also had figured in the run-up to the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission. As Apollo 13‘s backup lunar module pilot, Duke’s bout of rubella resulted in fellow astronaut Ken Mattingly — who had not previously been exposed to the disease — being removed from the mission and replaced with Jack Swigert. Mattingly then joined Duke and Young as Apollo 16‘s command module pilot.

Beyond the moon: Duke retired from NASA in 1975 and became a successful entrepreneur. He is also active as a speaker and consultant. At age 73, Duke is the youngest member of the moonwalkers’ fraternity.

11. Eugene A. Cernan, mission commander, Apollo 17. Reached the moon December 11, 1972.

Gene Cernan, the son of immigrants from eastern Europe, came to NASA as a Naval aviator and aeronautical engineer. His first space mission was the star-crossed Gemini 9, where Cernan and Thomas Stafford moved from backup to primary crew after the astronauts originally assigned were killed in a plane crash. On Apollo 10, Cernan served as lunar module pilot (with Stafford as mission commander), making him the only astronaut to have descended to the moon in a lunar module on two separate occasions — albeit without landing on the initial trip.

Although the 11th person to walk on the moon, Cernan also holds the current distinction of having been the last person to have accomplished the feat, as the second man to reboard the lunar module after Apollo 17‘s final EVA. Cernan spoke the final words to date by a human being standing on the lunar surface:

As we leave the moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came, and God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. As I take these last steps from the surface for some time to come, I’d just like to record that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. God speed the crew of Apollo 17.

Beyond the moon: Gene Cernan has spent most of his post-NASA career as a businessman and as a speaker on space-related topics. For a number of years, he was the regular spaceflight commentator for ABC News. He is the author of the autobiography Last Man on the Moon, which chronicles his astronaut years. In January of this year, Cernan appeared here in Santa Rosa at the Charles M. Schulz Museum for the opening of a space-themed Peanuts exhibit. Cernan is now 75 years old.

12. Harrison H. Schmitt, lunar module pilot, Apollo 17. Reached the moon December 11, 1972.

Harrison “Jack” Schmitt’s arrival on the moon was preceded by controversy. Originally, astronaut Joseph Engle had been scheduled as Apollo 17‘s lunar module pilot. When the final three Apollo missions were canceled, however, the scientific community that had so enthusiastically supported NASA insisted that a scientist — as opposed to a military officer (although Neil Armstrong had retired from the Navy before joining NASA) — should be part of the final moon mission of the era. Thus, Engle was replaced by Schmitt, a geologist with degrees from Caltech and Harvard — the only geological expert in the astronaut ranks.

Although Gene Cernan was vocal in his disapproval of Engle’s removal from his team, by all accounts he and Schmitt worked well together during their lunar excursion. During Apollo 17‘s outbound voyage, Schmitt snapped one of the most famous photographs ever taken — the shot of Earth from space usually referred to as “The Big Blue Marble.”

Beyond the moon: Schmitt left NASA in 1975 to run for the U.S. Senate. He served a single term as a Republican from New Mexico. After being defeated for reelection, Schmitt focused on consulting and education. Until last year, he chaired the NASA Advisory Council, a group of scientists, policymakers, and former astronauts charged with providing technical guidance to the NASA Administrator. Schmitt still lives in his native New Mexico, and is 74 years old.

And that’s it.

To this date, these are the only 12 people who have stood on the surface of the moon. No new member has joined their elite fraternity in almost 37 years.

Nine of the moonwalkers survive. Given that all nine are in their 70s, that status will likely not hold for long. It’s my sincere hope that at least some of them live long enough to see others do what they alone have done.

What a shame it would be for the human race if the moonwalkers — the representatives of our loftiest purpose, our greatest collective endeavor, our highest material achievement — became extinct.

As a citizen, I challenge President Obama, the members of Congress, and the administrators of NASA:

Ignore the naysayers.

Let’s go back to the moon.

And on to Mars.

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