New Mexico astronaut recounts Apollo 17 mission

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New Mexico has quite the growing aerospace industry now, but the state’s space-faring roots go back for decades.

In total, 12 Americans have walked on the moon including former New Mexico senator and astronaut Harrison Schmitt. In fact, on Friday, it was 50 years ago to the day when Schmitt and his crew left the moon and headed back to Earth.

A video camera they set up on a lunar rover captured the moments the Apollo 17 capsule took off from the moon’s surface.

“It was really quiet, the experience the whole mission was an experience,” Schmitt remembered fondly as he told a small crowd at the KIVA radio station about his trip to the moon.

There were three astronauts on Apollo 17: Commander Eugene Cernan, Command Module Pilot Ronald B. Evans, and Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt. This was the last Apollo mission NASA sent to the moon. 50 years later, he is still amazed he got the opportunity at all.

“I feel very proud that I was involved,” Harrison said, “When NASA and the National Academy of Sciences put out a request for volunteers for the astronaut program, I thought about 10 seconds then raised my hand.”

Before he was an astronaut, Harrison was a geologist.

“It was a very unexpected part of my life when it started, I was working at the U.S. Geological Survey office in Flagstaff, Arizona,” Harrison explained.

Because of him, they found what they believe is evidence of volcanic activity on the moon.

In total, the Apollo 17 mission was 13 days from take-off to touch-down, but only a fraction of that was on the moon.

“We had 3 days on the moon, 3 days of exploration total time outside the spacecraft was 22 hours,” Schmitt explained Friday.

When Schmitt and his crew finally returned to earth, he had quite the welcome home.

“In fact, as I walked across the bridge of the Ticonderoga, a young sailor came up to me and said, ‘I’m from Silver City,” Schmitt said as he chuckled “So, my hometown was represented on the Ticonderoga!”

That was the first and last time Schmitt went to space, and he said it was an experience of a lifetime.

Now KOB 4 did ask Schmitt if there is any technology from today that he wished they had 50 years ago, and he said a small digital camera. He explained the film cameras they took to the moon were pretty cumbersome.