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U.S. Geological Survey
Open-File Report 2005-1190

The U.S. Geological Survey, Branch of Astrogeology—A Chronology of Activities from Conception through the End of Project Apollo (1960-1973)

By Gerald G. Schaber

Photo of two men in the California desert driving a simulator of the Lunar Rover
Geologist Jack Schmitt (l) and Commander Gene Cernan training for Apollo 17 (from Figure 96d)

Between the early 1960’s and early 1970’s, a group of young and enthusiastic geoscientists and support personnel working for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Branch of Astrogeology in Menlo Park California, Flagstaff, Arizona, and elsewhere, were destined to play a major role in one of the most remarkable events and most significant achievements in the history of mankind-the manned Apollo expeditions to the Moon. July 20th of 2009 will mark the 40th anniversary of the day the world stood still while everyone watched astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the surface of the Moon while Mike Collins orbited above them during the historic Apollo 11 mission to the Sea of Tranquillity.

The history of the geologic mapping of the Moon, and the U.S. Geological Survey, Branch of Astrogeology’s pure research and outstanding support of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) unmanned lunar spacecraft missions, during the Apollo Era have been well-documented by Don Wilhelms in his two outstanding publications The Geologic History of the Moon (Wilhelms, 1987) and To a Rocky Moon (Wilhelms, 1993). Don, having spent his career with the Branch of Astrogeology in Menlo Park, California, directing the Survey’s lunar-geologic mapping activities, is the first to admit that these publications provide insufficient detail on the concurrent activities of the "Manned Lunar Exploration" group of the Branch of Astrogeology, which, based out of Flagstaff, Arizona (starting in mid-1963), became the Branch of Surface Planetary Exploration in 1967 (until the Branches recombined in May 1974). Therefore, the main objective of the present work is to fill that significant gap in the important documentation of Apollo history with regard to the participation of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Our story begins with a brief summary (taken from Wilhelms, 1993) of the pioneering astrogeologic research activities that took place at Coon Butte/Coon Mountain, or Barringer Meteorite Crater (Meteor Crater) just east of Flagstaff from the late Nineteenth Century to the Early Twentieth Century. This is followed by a summary of the early considerations by prominent scientists of the Twentieth Century regarding the probable origin of lunar craters (impact versus volcanic) and speculations on the geology of the Moon.

The story then jumps to the spring of 1948 when Eugene Merle Shoemaker, a bright, inquisitive, geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Colorado Plateau uranium project became fascinated one evening with a beautiful, nearly-full Moon while working in southeastern Colorado on 28 April 1948--his twentieth Birthday. That first evening of Gene’s focus on the Moon, and its then uncertain geologic nature, led that spring to Gene’s admitted "epiphany" about going the Moon himself, and exploring its geology as a field geologist. "He said I took the first fork that went to the Moon that Morning" (Levy, 2000, p. 27).

The present story, which really begins with Gene’s epiphany, and extends to the end of the Apollo Era (1973), was undertaken both as an important historical record of that incredible period of manned exploration of space, and as a tribute to Eugene M. Shoemaker (1928-1997) (The Father of Astrogeology and Modern Lunar Geology) and the many special men and women of the Branch of Astrogeology and Branch of Surface Planetary Exploration who made the Geological Survey’s scientific role in Project Apollo one for which we can all be very proud.

This publication consists of a text portion as a PDF file that has links to 10 other PDFs comprising figures, tables, and appendixes. This report has a total of 1161 pages.

Download the 347-page text (5.6 MB with links to 200 MB of other files)

If you would like any of the 371 illustrations used in this report, open the of2005-1190_figures folder (853 MB). You will find an ASCII text file of the figure captions there also.

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If you would like links to the separate figure, table, and appendix files, they are provided below:

of2005-1190_figs_001-019.pdf (45 pages; 23.7 MB)

of2005-1190_figs_020-039.pdf (52 pages; 21 MB)

of2005-1190_figs_040-059.pdf (84 pages; 40.8 MB)

of2005-1190_figs_060-079.pdf (74 pages; 34.6 MB)

of2005-1190_figs_080-101.pdf (116 pages; 62.9 MB)

of2005-1190_table1.pdf (10 pages; 308 KB)

of2005-1190_table2.pdf (6 pages; 1.7 MB)

of2005-1190_table3.pdf (21 pages; 8.6 MB)

of2005-1190_appendix_a.pdf (359 pages; 5.3 MB)

of2005-1190_appendix_b.pdf (47 pages; 512 KB)

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Maintained by: Michael Diggles
Created: March 27, 2006
Last modified: May 1, 2007 (mfd)
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