Gene Shoemaker

The planetary science community lost one of its founding members when Dr. Eugene Shoemaker died in an automobile accident July 18 in Alice Springs, Australia. He was conducting field studies of impact craters with his wife and collaborator, Carolyn, who survived the accident despite serious injuries. Colleagues at LPI and USRA remember two chapters from what might be called the many lives of this remarkable scientist.

A Mover and Shaker

— Jack Sevier

I can't think of anyone who has left a more indelible mark on planetary science than Gene Shoemaker. He was in it at the beginning when it was the domain of astronomers, and he was in it at the end when all but Pluto had become the property of the planetary scientists with their techniques of photogeology, geologic mapping, cratering analyses, and all the rest of the things that he helped to invent. His 40-plus years in the space program spanned Ranger, Surveyor, Lunar Orbiter, Apollo, Viking, Voyager, Clementine — and he was still going strong at the end with Earth-crossing asteroids and who knows what else.

Gene was not just a first-rate geologist, but he was one of those movers and shakers as well. In his 1993 book, To a Rocky Moon, Don Wilhelms called it "wooing and selling" (p. 57), but it means the same thing: the ability to persuade the naysayers that your point of view is the correct one and should therefore prevail. The naysayers in the early days of Apollo (circa 1962) were the engineers and managers intent on meeting President Kennedy's simply stated objective of landing men on the Moon and returning them safely to Earth before the end of the decade. Embracing science was not part of the bargain and, worse, it would interfere with the difficult task at hand. However, during a one-year detail from USGS to NASA Headquarters in 1962, Gene was able at least to bring about a partial thaw in the antiscience attitude, and the Manned Space Science Division was established, not that it was terribly influential at first, but at least the foot was in the door.

At about the same time that Gene was wooing and selling at NASA Headquarters, the original Langley space contingent was moving to Houston to the newly established Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) in a variety of rented office buildings on and around the Gulf Freeway. The Apollo Spacecraft Program Office (ASPO) was one of those MSC elements, and I was one of their young engineers working in the Integration Division. Among other things that needed integrating were the mission requirements with the spacecraft capabilities (neither of which were locked in at this early date). This included things like the mission timeline, landing site characteristics, lunar surface activities, and a host of other considerations. The folks in Shoemaker's Astrogeology Branch (which had moved to Flagstaff by then and some of whom were detailed to Houston to teach geology to the astronauts) seemed to be the best informed concerning many of the scientific aspects of lunar mission planning. More and more I found myself working with them and sharing their desire to get the most science out of the missions, consistent with the real world constraints (although we didn't always agree on the real-world). For example, on one of my first visits to Flagstaff, Gene showed me their mission control center from which they were expecting (hoping?) to conduct the lunar surface operations once MCC-Houston had transferred control to MCC-Flagstaff. They had conducted simulations from there with simulated astronauts located a few miles away in the Sunset Crater area. A great idea, but not one that NASA was ever going to be ready for. Later they practiced the same thing with real astronauts, but from MCC-Houston and with several communication layers between the Field Geology team in the back room and the astronauts at Sunset Crater.

Gene had managed to accomplish a great deal toward making science an essential element of the Apollo program, but I know it wasn't enough to satisfy him. Although Apollo 11 was an unqualified success from anyone's point of view, Gene wanted the follow-on missions, if there were to be any, to have science as their focus, not just as a by-product. In October 1969, three months after Apollo 11 and one month before Apollo 12, in a public meeting at Caltech, he announced his intent to resign as leader of the Field Geology Team the following March and return to Caltech as chairman of the Division of Geological Sciences. At this same meeting he took the opportinity to chastise NASA for its lack of interest in doing real science. According to Wilhelms (To a Rocky Moon, p. 235), "Shoemaker foresaw that NASA simply wanted to use up its remaining spacecraft as fast as possible without making the major changes needed to exploit Apollo scientifically."

At the time, I thought Gene had been rather harsh with NASA, particularly when I later learned that he was already past due to return to his Caltech commitment and had probably intended to do so whatever he thought about NASA and how they were handling the Apollo Program. At any rate, he had caused quite a stir — one that was difficult for NASA to ignore, although there were those who argued that NASA had won the Moon race and should quit while it was ahead. The events that followed confirm that, whatever his motives in raising a fuss, and whatever reasons NASA had in response, Gene achieved his aim. The decision was made soon thereafter that the Apollo flights would not only continue, but, as soon as practicable, the Lunar Module would be upgraded to permit longer staytime and a greater payload capability; a Lunar Roving Vehicle would be built to provide increased mobility beyond what an astronaut could do on foot; a Scientific Instrument Module (SIM) bay would be added to the Service Module for collecting remote sensing data from lunar orbit; additional lunar surface scientific instruments would be built to do things like measuring heat flow, seismic activity, and surface electrical properties, and the Portable Life Support System (PLSS) would be upgraded to extend the extravehicular capability to seven hours compared to the four-hour limit on the early missions.

These were all brought on line for the "J" missions (Apollo 15, 16, and 17) and contributed immeasurably to our understanding of the Moon. Gene had gone on to other things by this time, but the people he had trained and influenced saw to it that the Lunar Exploration Program got the very most science that could be achieved from what Gene had begun. He brought the same dogged determination to every other planetary program in which he was involved and, for that matter, everything else he did, and we (and planetary science) are much the better for it.

(Mr. Sevier is Director of the Universities Space Research Association's Division of Educational Programs and Deputy Director of its Division of Space Life Sciences.)

Gene Shoemaker Remembered:
An appreciation

—Paul D. Spudis

Strange it seems to me that I worked at the Branch of Astrogeology of the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff for over 10 years, but the only chance I ever got to work closely with Gene was after I left the Survey, in conjunction with the Clementine mission.

When I first came to the USGS in 1980, Gene was on sabbatical at Caltech. My first real encounter with him was at one of the Lunar and Planetary Science Conferences, where he went out of his way to welcome me into the Branch and encourage my studies of the Moon. At the time, interest in lunar science was considered eccentric, to put it mildly, as everyone knew that future NASA planetary missions were to be conducted somewhere else. Gene never looked at it that way. His initial interest in planetary science was focused on the Moon and he never wavered in his tremendous devotion to it. Moreover, he and I had both shared the youthful dream of doing field geology on the Moon ourselves. He encouraged me to continue my lunar work as it was his firm belief that much was left to be done.

During my time at Flagstaff, Gene and I seldom had the opportunity to talk at length, but I found out how much he valued what I did during a Branch meeting. In these annual dog-and-pony shows, each Branch member was expected to get up and present a summary of their work, outlining new results from the past year. After giving my spiel about the importance of lunar science, I had to endure the usual remarks from several associates about the value of the Moon — it was "old hat," all the important problems had been solved, it was time to "move on." Gene got up and proceeded to remind everyone about the scientific importance of the Moon. He heartily endorsed my efforts, meager as they were, to integrate information from Apollo sample studies and regional geology of the Moon determined by photogeology and remote sensing. Gene's immense scientific prestige ensured that such work was taken seriously, and I have little doubt that, without his ringing endorsement, lunar science may well have been abandoned by the Branch.

In 1990, I had an opportunity to leave the USGS and go to Washington DC on temporary assignment, to work on the now-defunct Space Exploration Initiative (SEI). Gene strongly encouraged me to take this assignment. It was his belief that ambitious human exploration of the Moon and Mars could revitalize a floundering space program. I think Gene remembered his tenure at NASA Headquarters in the early 1960s, when his presence close to the center of things was largely responsible for both the geological orientation of the Apollo program and its extraordinary scientific productivity, neither of which was a foregone conclusion. (For a detailed recounting of this fascinating story, including the crucial role played in it by Shoemaker at a critical time, read the excellent history, To A Rocky Moon, by Don Wilhelms, University of Arizona Press, 1993.) In a distinct minority within the scientific community, Gene believed that scientific exploration was a key aspect of human space flight and that people in space had important and unique abilities that robots could not match.

Although the attempt to start SEI was unsuccessful, from this synthesis group came acquaintances, contacts, and personal networking, resulting in a close-knit group of space enthusiasts, eager to work together on a return to the Moon. By a fortuitous coincidence, Gene and I found ourselves working together on a concept for a small, inexpensive mission to the Moon and an asteroid — the Clementine mission. Clementine was envisioned principally as a demonstration in space of certain key technologies developed as part of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), but the concept of gathering unique scientific data with it originated largely from Stu Nozette during a bar conversation with friends. Stu brought Gene into the Clementine discussion very early because Gene was a recognized authority on asteroid science. Gene quickly came to realize that a very productive, low-cost mission was possible with the SDI hardware. I became involved in the mission through my work with Stu on the synthesis group, in particular, after the idea arose to use the Moon as an scientific target in addition to the asteroid.

In January 1992, we held a short meeting about the Clementine mission in Crystal City, Virginia. The night before this meeting, Gene and I had dinner, where we caught up on old times and spun war stories about life in Washington. I was spellbound as Gene described to me his concept of the lunar phase of the Clementine mission. He had calculated the profile, orbit parameters, and mapping strategy for the lunar phase of the mission and sketched it out on a dinner napkin. Two years later, almost to the day, Clementine left Vandenberg Air Force Base for the Moon, following very nearly the exact mission profile Gene had envisioned on a plane ride years before.

During the operational phase of Clementine, the science team lived near the Batcave, our mission control center in Alexandria, Virginia. Gene worked tirelessly for long hours with the rest of the team, carefully scrutinizing the new lunar data and trying to understand some of the amazing new results. I remember in particular his ebullience when Eric Eliason (USGS, Flagstaff) had finished a mosaic of over 1500 images of the south polar region. Gene was struck immediately by the presence of a large zone of darkness near the pole and we spent many hours debating the possibility of a lunar "cold trap," a concept proposed many years ago as the place to search for lunar volatiles. Stu Nozette came up with the idea to use the onboard radio transmitter of Clementine to improvise a bistatic radar experiment to look for possible ice deposits. Although I had never been particularly interested in the problem of volatiles and the environment of the poles of the Moon, Gene's contagious enthusiasm once again won over a new convert. It turns out that Gene may well have been right to be so excited — our detection of ice deposits awaits confirmation by the neutron spectrometer to be flown on the upcoming Lunar Prospector mission.

It's hard to believe that we have lost Gene. He was an irreplaceable asset to the planetary science program. Always encouraging to his peers and especially younger scientists, his breadth of vision and interests were truly remarkable. He attacked and solved some of the most intractable scientific problems with infectious and joyous enthusiasm. I consider myself fortunate for having had the all-too-short opportunity of knowing and working with him. I shall miss him.

(Dr. Spudis is a staff scientist at LPI.)

Photos courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, Arizona. For additional information and remembrances of Gene Shoemaker, see the USGS Web site at