Being a lunar geologist pretty much nothing gets better than meeting someone who has walked on the Moon! Several members of the SEAES Isotope Group and I went to see a presentation by Charlie Duke, who was the Lunar Module Pilot of the Apollo 16 mission. Duke was visiting the UK as part of the Space Lectures tour and speaking in Pontefract, West Yorkshire, UK. As most of the samples I study in the lab happen to have been returned by the Apollo 16 mission his visit presented a unique opportunity to hear from, and meet one of the Moonwalkers.
The Apollo 16 mission launched on a Saturn 5 rocket on the 16th April 1972 from Cape Kennedy Florida. Astronauts Commander John Young and Lunar Module Pilot Charles (Charlie) Duke touched down on the lunar surface on the 21st April 1972. Their mission visited the central nearside of the Moon contact between the Descartes Mountains and Cayley Plains Formations (8.59° S, 15.30° E).
The astronauts spent three days on the surface of the Moon, and performed three traverses on foot and using the electric rover. Their travels took them north to the 1 km North Ray Crater and south to Stone Mountain (see map) and, in addition to carrying out a series of science experiments, they brought back just under 100 kg of Moon rock. The mission was designed to investigate the geology and modification history of the lunar highlands, and to determine if the underlying geology was products of volcanism. It was, however, discovered instead that the deposits are impact modified lithologies of the crust (see here for more details). These samples (see also here for specific information) have provided key insights into the formation of ancient lunar crust; the composition, stratigraphy and impact modification of the nearside crust; and the structure and history of the lunar regolith. Our group is studying Apollo 16 samples to better understand the Moon’s impact history.
Hearing Charlie Duke remember his experiences walking and driving on the surface of the Moon was made for an unforgettable evening. He related some great stories about his geology training and putting that training into practice: always collect a sample of every colour – on the Moon that’s easy there are black ones, grey ones and white ones! And recalled that some of some of the samples were particularly tricky to collect and that when in space blowing on your camera does little to clear the dust. I thoroughly enjoyed the event and just hope that I get to meet more Moonwalkers as I continue my career, as meeting someone who has carried out field geology on the Moon is a truly inspirational experience.
For more information about the Apollo 16 mission please see the Apollo 16 Lunar Surface Journal