Forty years ago next month, the Apollo 17 mission carried the last human visitors to the moon in the twentieth century. Dr. Harrison (Jack) Schmitt, a native New Mexican and current resident of Albuquerque, was one of them. Dr. Schmitt, a geologist, was the only professional scientist to explore the moon. So far, at least.
Here are some comments from Dr. Schmitt about the future of space exploration:
"I believe that if government efforts lag, private enterprise should take the lead in settling space."
"Space tourism should be a long term objective of private space endeavors and should be appropriately encouraged by government."
"The preponderance of human experience supports the conclusion that the greatest value to be obtained from a bold new enterprise will likely come from activities that are, initially, completely unforeseen."
Dr. David Simons, head of the Biology Branch of Holloman Air Force Base's Aeromedical Field Laboratory, piloted the second flight of the Manhigh project in 1957. His helium-balloon flight lasted 32 hours and reached altitudes over 101,000 feet. Here are some of his recollections, from his book Man High:
"I felt as if I no longer belonged to the earth on this morning. My identity was with the darkness above. As I ate, the sky around me and above me grew darker. I knew that I was returning to the altitudes I had visited the day before. It was right. That was where I belonged. I was separated now, emotionally as well as physically, from the earth."
"Despite the frightening problems I had become such a part of the sky that now, once more bound to earth, I wished to be up again, far above this plowed field."
"I had not thought of my flight as a hero's adventure. It was compelling to me solely because of the chance it gave me, and the Air Force, to learn about a part of the sky in which no man had lingered before, but to which many men soon would go."
Following selection of astronauts for the Mercury Program, NASA's first manned spaceflight project, Dr. Randy Lovelace wrote an article for Life magazine (April 20, 1959). In it, he described the exhaustive physical examinations the astronaut candidates underwent at the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque. Here are some of his comments:
"The 7½ days [of testing] were crowded with appointments from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on three occasions the tests were to run well into the evening."
"The examinations required poking, jabbing, probing, measuring in so many ways that Marine Lieut. Colonel John H. Glenn Jr., one of the seven ultimately chosen for space flight, later remarked, 'I didn't know the human body had so many openings to explore.'"
"Despite their grueling schedule, the Mercury men did have a little free time. A few played golf and one party went skiing. Others hired sports cars to tour the countryside, and none of the gastrointestinal tests discouraged the candidates from eating enormous quantities of Mexican food in Albuquerque's Old Town."
Project Excelsior's Joe Kittinger is serving as an advisor to Felix Baumgartner's attempt to break his high-altitude parachute record. During a radio interview on WMFE-FM in Orlando, July 18, 2012, Kittinger said:
"That's why we go deeper in the ocean, faster on land, higher-that's human nature. We want to extend our horizons; we want to extend our limits. And the way you do it is to push the envelope."
"I think our real challenge is to go to Mars. To me, that would be the most wonderful challenge we could ever have, is to go to Mars. And when we get to that stage, we're going to be needing the best pressure suit we can get. This pressure suit that Felix is using is an improvement over past pressure suits."
"For sure in the future, they will use this data that we're gathering on this jump that Felix is making."
"I think it's wonderful that private industry is getting involved in space research. It's a win-win situation for science and for the nation."
"We had never put a man into space, and we knew that when man went into space it would be in a small, confined capsule. We knew when we went into space there would be physiological monitoring, and life support and communication systems, and the purpose of Manhgih was to test those systems and determine how to select and train the astronauts, keep them alive through the mission and bring them back safely." - Joe Kittinger in a 2003 interview with AVweb's Joe Godfrey
"Of all the projects that I've worked on in my life, of all the businesses I've started, this is by far the most exciting. This business will mark a milestone in world history, and it will launch a new space industry - a private space industry, driven by innovators and entrepreneurs and new technologies and bold thinkers." Richard Branson, to MSNBC.com, Dec 14, 2005
"Made out lists of stock needed for setup [of launch tower] in country. Went down with E [Mrs. Esther Goddard] and got mail and read 'The Martian' in eve." Robert Goddard, diary entry for September 19, 1930
Clifton McClure after the Manhigh III flight:
"As far as I am concerned about taking in food or water, the situation that you are put in from 80,000 feet to 100,000 feet, and after then at altitude, was such that only a person who just really never cared even about looking with his eyes could stop to eat and drink, and that was something that just ran on until you almost fell over and you realized, well, if I don't eat and drink I won't be able to do any more."
"Even though there was a tremendous enjoyment in what I was doing, I found a persistent feeling of insecurity. I had also noted this feeling in the smaller balloon rides. . . . It was due, I think, to the fact that normal references, normal support, are gone. In a balloon there is no visible means of support, unless you look almost directly up, and it seems that no assurance comes from this because in doing so all normal references-horizon, ground, et cetera-are completely lost with the act of looking for the support."
"There was another feeling that persisted during the time that I was at altitude. This was very similar to the just described feeling of insecurity but to explain it more exactly would be to describe it as a 'reverent' feeling. More than once, as I looked out on this strange scene, I recalled the often used words 'conquer space,' and came to the conclusion that this was a very inapplicable phrase to apply to this region which I viewed."
"Within a month or two, we expect we'll have an engine we can put in the vehicle [SpaceShipTwo]. We would carry on that powered flight testing into 2013 for several months leading, eventually we hope, to the start of commercial operations toward the end of 2013. . . . We are the only company with a vehicle that is based on technology that has flown people to space." Virgin Galactic Chief Executive George Whitesides in April 2012
"My presence on the crew of Apollo 17 resulted, of course, from the fact that my professional experience included geology, and a logical desire existed in many circles for a geologist to explore the moon before the end of the Apollo Program. Decision makers apparently also believed that my acquired skills in jet aircraft, helicopters, and spacecraft simulators had prepared me to perform well as a Luna Module Pilot. I just thought going to the moon would be a great idea!" New Mexico native Harrison (Jack) Schmitt
"I began to see the 'space' sky very definitely different at about 85,000 to 87,000 feet. Here the sky had really lost its blue coloring, or lost coloring altogether and had become a completely dark void. . . . Looking . . . into the sky immediately impressed me as the blackest sky I had ever seen, yet-and this is completely beyond my own poor power to express-this black continued to get blacker as I elevated my gaze." Manhigh III pilot Clifton McClure
"Oh, I imagine I'll say: 'Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to space. You are now free to float around the cabin.'" -- David Mackay, chief pilot for Virgin Galactic
"Science prospers in a high-cycle rate environment…. you fly it, get data, learn about it, get it down on the ground and fly something else in a few days or a few weeks. We think we are going to be able to do that … rapid re-flight, very quickly." - George Whitesides, chief executive officer and president of Virgin Galactic, at a Jan. 20, 2012, meeting of The Aerospace & Defense Forum (Los Angeles Chapter).
"Why do we set such goals? Or more to the point, why did three of us risk our necks to learn the far less exotic things we gathered from Man High? The answer, quite simply, is that the very act of taking these risks meant that we were taking a short step forward toward the next difficult step and the next one after that to the seemingly impossible." -- Manhigh II pilot David Simons in his book Man High.
Each month during 2012, the previous months' postings to the Voices from New Mexico's Space History will be moved to this page. Please use the link on the left to access postings from 2011.
"We all worked as a team and exchanged ideas. There were no secrets among any of us. But we had an understanding, and Mrs. Goddard made that clear to me my first day, 'You do not talk to the outsiders, you don't say a word to the outsiders.'" -- Lowell Randall, the last surviving member of Robert Goddard's rocket research team. Randall went to work for Goddard in 1941 and died at the age of 96 in January 2012
"There is danger on the moon-the danger of the unknown. Our first expedition, which can land there in the next 25 years, must be prepared. Tissue-damaging cosmic rays-invisible, deep-penetrating atom particles-unpredictably streak in from space, with no atmosphere to impede them. Meteorites, from microscopic grains to mountainous boulders, hurtle down. On the lunar surface, thin layers of crust might cover great crevasses, making travel perilous. Jagged rocks threaten the fabric of the pressurized, oxygen-equipped space suits essential to life." -- Wernher von Braun in Collier's magazine, October 25, 1952
"In 1964 . . . NASA and the National Academy of Sciences asked for volunteers for the fourth group of astronauts, who were to be scientist-astronauts. And I thought about 10 seconds and raised my hand and volunteered. Primarily because I felt, I can remember feeling at the time, that if I didn't volunteer, no matter what happened to my application, that I'd almost certainly regret it when human beings actually went to the Moon." -- Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, Apollo 17 astronaut and New Mexico native
Between December 1955 and October 1958, a US Air Force project called Manhigh was developed and headquartered at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico. The project's purpose was to evaluate this country's ability to build and test a space capsule in which a man could survive and function effectively for 24 hours or more. To achieve sustained altitude in a near-space environment, the capsule was flown by a helium-filled balloon. Dr. David Simons oversaw the project and piloted the second of three flights. The following quotes are taken from his 1960 memoir, Man High:
"'The polyethylene balloon,' said [meteorologist] Duke Gildenberg, 'is nothing but a rather profoundly engineered vegetable bag, with one very important difference. If you want to know how many pounds of potatoes a plastic bag will hold, you simply start shoving in potatoes. But there is no way to dynamically test a balloon without ruining it. You just have to trust that the people who put it together have looked over every square inch of the polyethylene and found no flaws.'"
"Two million cubic feet of helium at sea level expand to 200 million cubic feet at the near vacuum of 100,000 feet. A balloon that starts out only 1 per cent full on the ground will swell to its full size as it rises into the stratosphere."
"Good-bye, cruel world." - Joe Kittinger, pilot of Manhigh I as the balloon took off
"Often the winds at the junction of the troposphere and stratosphere sheer off in sharp layers, like speeding cars running northward under an overpass and westward across it. If the polyethylene balloon, frozen to brittleness by the tropospheric cold, passed suddenly from a fast westward wind into an equally fast opposing wind, it would splinter like a broken light bulb."
"Before this program [Man High] ended it would become a breath-taking adventure, and the lives of five of us involved in it would skip narrowly past the crumbling brink of disaster. But like all adventures in science it began soberly, routinely, with thoughts of hazard far removed."
"We had challenged ourselves to build and fly a space capsule, not simply for the sake of doing it, as a mountain challenges a mountain climber, but for the sake of gathering useful scientific information. There were many things that could be learned by a scientific observer at 100,000 feet that simply could not be discovered on the ground. I knew there would be hazards, but I had enough confidence in the engineering skill of the men who would build the balloon and the capsule to believe that most of the hazard would be eliminated by good design."
"Our sealed one-man gondola was really a space cabin, hung from a balloon instead of nestled in the nose of a rocket. With it we could get a realistic idea of both the physical and psychological problems of space flight."