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Missing History of Astrogeology Saved

Monday, May 15, 2006

Gerald G. Schaber (left) and dad at the launch of Apollo 15 (July, 1971). Schaber helped to develop a geologic field training program for Apollo astronauts. He was also involved in the traverse planning and production (in Flagstaff) of the Lunar Surface Exploration Map Data Package for Apollo 15.

A "must read" Open File Report that is a comprehensive account of the USGS participation in the Apollo era, from its conception through the end of Project Apollo, has been completed by Gerald G. “Jerry” Schaber during the time he was with the U.S. Geological Survey, Branch of Astrogeology, working as a Scientist Emeritis. The work was encouraged and suported by former and current Program Chiefs of Astrogeology, Wes Ward and Lisa Gaddis respectively.

The Open File Report, The U.S. Geological Survey, Branch of Astrogeology-- A Chronology of Activities from Conception though the End of Project Apollo, covers the period of the 1960s-1970s capturing the roles of geoscientist and support personnel working for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Branch of Astrogeology, in Flagstaff, and elsewhere, in support of expeditions to the Moon. Although there are books written by Don Wilhelms that include accounts of Astrogeology’s research and support of NASA’s unmanned lunar spacecraft missions during the Apollo era, they lack detail regarding Astrogeology’s concurrent activities of the “Manned Lunar Exploration Group.” Jerry Schaber has filled that significant gap of history with regard to the participation of the USGS. Astrogeology celebrates this accomplishment.

“This work has been a true labor of love, taking place over many years and requiring much labor and perseverance to get into ‘print’,” says Lisa Gaddis.

The report reveals intimate details such as Astrogeology’s origin and working conditions during these times, studies at Meteor Crater, involvement in telescopic Moon mapping, planning for NASA’s Lunar Missions activities, Flagstaff in the media “Spotlight” during Apollo 11, and also one of the Branch’s own Harrison H. “Jack” Schmitt's walk on the moon during Apollo 17. It captures Eugene M. Shoemaker’s, the Father of Astrogeology, dream of doing field mapping on the surface of the Moon, and recounts how he reaches the lunar surface. There is a wealth of information filled with warmth, humor, struggles, failures and successes-- viewpoints of various participants telling rich and complex stories that leave the reader proud to be an American.

Jerry conducted interviews with sixty-six current and past employees of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Branch of Astrogeology and Branch of Surface Planetary Exploration (the latter in existence from 1967 to 1973). He cited many texts, accessed Astrogeology's personal daily logs and monthly reports, consulted unpublished memoirs of Astrogeology’s geologist John F. “Jack” McCauley's transcripts, and NASA’s Apollo Journal web site which is noted as an excellent resource to capture these fine moments in history, and many other references to bring this valuable information to our fingertips.

This is a highly readable account. It is serious scholarship, suitable for the general public, and those with an interest in science, in the rich culture of history in the making. It is for those who’d like to celebrate their hometown’s (Flagstaff) contribution to space history in familiar locations such as Meteor Crater, where astronaut training took place, use of the Cinder Lakes volcanic field to create Moon-like terrain, where Apollo 15 astronauts James Irwin and David Scott test-drove a geologic rover, and much more.

The publications consists of text, figures, tables, appendixes, and many photographs from the branch history photo collection. This report has a total of 1,162 pages; there are links to separate files, tables, and appendix files that are listed on the web pages. Gerald G. Schaber's Open File Report is available on the World Wide Web at URL .

Coming in June: an interview with Gerald G. Schaber.

Astrogeology Steps Up Lunar Orbiter Data with Apollo Images

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The U.S. Geological Survey Astrogeology Program takes another step forward in reviving the lunar data from the 1960’s. The cartographic group is evaluating the use of modern softcopy digital mapping techniques to extract a digital elevation model (DEM) from Lunar Orbiter (LO) and Apollo digitized imagery. Products enabled by this endeavor will supersede earlier maps and will be functional for upcoming lunar missions and coincide with the vision to gain a new foothold on the moon.

Cartoon poking fun at stair-step artifacts in Lunar Orbiter imagery
The original Lunar Orbiter photographs reconstructed in the 1960’s had limited utility for topographic mapping due to stair-step artifacts in the reconstructed photographs. To correct this problem, Lunar Orbiter images were digitized and reconstructed to fit tto calibrated reseaux and fiducials locations, and the stair-step artifacts in the resulting images were greatly reduced. Although the Apollo imagery was previously used to produce topographic maps, they were limited in size and accuracy, and most notably, had kilometer-sized offsets between them because different control networks were employed during their production. To correct this, a revised global network for the Moon that included Clementine imagery acquired in the 1990’s was generated, so that future mapping would be based on a common control network. The Unified Lunar Control Network 2005 improved the accuracy and the density of control points and included computed elevations values for each point.

To take reviving Lunar Orbiter to another level, the cartographic group considers the pros and cons for using digital elevation models from Apollo (metric vs. panoramic) and/or Lunar Orbiter imagery to produce controlled DEMs, orthoimage mosaics and other products that will be useful in future mission planning and scientific analysis. Upcoming missions such as SELENE – Japan, Chang’e 1 –China, Chandrayaan-1 – India, and -Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter - USA, will have access to highly detailed topographic data.

President Bush announced in a press release, on January 14, 2004, that our goal is to return to the moon by 2020. "Beginning no later than 2008, we will send a series of robotic missions to the lunar surface to research and prepare for future human exploration." The Astrogeology team continues their lunar groundwork.

Learn more about Lunar Orbiter, ULCN 2005 network, and Mapping with Apollo Images

Roll on ROLO

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Rolo Image of the Moon
Some people imagine that the moon is made of cheese, and some think of ROLO as a kind of caramel candy, but in reality ROLO is the RObotic Lunar Observatory, an active project worked diligently by Tom Stone of the USGS Astrogeolgy team. A goal of the project is to determine the precise brightness of the Moon and use it as an absolute radiance calibration standard for Earth-orbiting satellite imaging instruments.

Earth-orbiting spacecraft and their instruments, such as the Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS); Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS); Advance Land Imager (ALI); and Geostationary Environmental Satellites (GOES), use data provided by ROLO as part of a calibration reference to monitor the Earth’s brightness levels and its changes.

Twin Telescopes on Fork Mount
One might wonder why ROLO uses the Moon as a calibration source. “The surface of the moon has extremely stable reflectance, much more stable than any hardware that can be flown on an ‘on-board’ calibration system” says Tom Stone, Project Scientist.

On clear nights for more than 6 years, twin telescopes on a fork mount have recorded some 85,000 images of the Moon from first quarter to last quarter phase in 32 bands from 350-2500 nm. However, routine observations stopped in September 2003, and intermittent observations continue.

The ROLO project was started as a collaboration between Hugh Kieffer, formerly of the U.S. Geological Survey, who now serves as a consultant on the project, and Robert Wildey, who was then employed with Northern Arizona University (but came to work for U.S. Geological Survey). Robert Wildey developed the acronym ROLO and it is used in his memory; he was a critical part of ROLO from its inception until his death in 1998.

The ultimate goal of project ROLO is to establish the Moon as a spectral radiance standard with an accuracy of 1-2 % absolute, traceable to SI units (Système International d'unités). Another project goal to precisely measure satellite instrument changes has been achieved and is in use by satellite instrument teams.

Link: USGS Astrogeology - ROLO website

New Stuff on Astro Kids!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Mars rover coloring page!
A bunch of new activities and goodies to download are now available on the Astro Kids page! Make your own globe of your favorite planet or moon using a tennis ball and some glue and get the low-down info on the planets, plus there's lots of new coloring pages and puzzles!

Go to the Astro Kids page!

National Guards Commends Astrogeology Program

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

This morning, Colonel James E. Grayson, Jr., Commander of the 153rd Field Artillery Brigade, presented the USGS Astrogeology Research Program with an Award for Excellence coin and a certificate recognizing the Program as a Patriotic Employer for contributing to to national security and protecting liberty and freedom by supporting USGS employee and Guardsman Lieutenant Colonel Tim Titus's participation in America's National Guard and Reserve Force.

Link: Timothy N. Titus, Space Scientist - Tim's USGS professional page

Link: Arizona Army National Guard - home page

USGS Shoemaker Center for Astrogeology Dedication

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Apollo 17 astronaut Jack Schmitt giving his dedication speech

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Around 300 guests were in attendance for the dedication of the new Shoemaker Center for Astrogeology building here in Flagstaff, Arizona. Guest speakers included Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison H. "Jack" Schmitt, Carolyn Shoemaker, Donald Beattie, Gordon Swann, and USGS Director Chip Groat. After the ceremonies, visitors took tours of the new building, chatting Astrogeology scientists and staff, and meeting old friends.


Continue reading "USGS Shoemaker Center for Astrogeology Dedication"

Lunar Training Rover Returns to Flagstaff

Saturday, June 8, 2002

USGS and Museum personnel unload the rover after its trip from Alamagordo, New Mexico

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Grover (Geologic Rover) was returned to the USGS Astrogeology Research Program after a 19 year loan to the New Mexico Museum of Space History. The rover was used for training Apollo astronauts at the Cinder Lakes, Flagstaff, training grounds.

Link: New Mexico Museum of Space History -

Link: USGS Astro - Astronaut Training in Flagstaff

Link: Arizona Daily Sun - Newspaper coverage of the event

Mars, Like Earth, Sculpted by Super Eruptions and Epic Floods

Thursday, March 28, 2002

Kenneth Tanaka, an astrogeologist at USGS in Flagstaff, Arizona, led a research team that spotted parts missing from the rim of a giant basin on Mars. The scientists think the material was stripped away when nearby volcanoes erupted, releasing surges of carbon dioxide and perhaps water. As lava welled up from below, it pressurized the carbon dioxide, creating a situation akin to a shaken soda, Tanaka told USGS researchers Jeffrey Kargel, David MacKinnon, and Trent Hare also worked on the study, as did Nick Hoffman from the University of Melbourne in Australia. The researchers used topography data provided by the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter aboard NASA's Mars Global Surveyor.

More: - Mars, Like Earth, Sculpted by Super Eruptions and Epic Floods

Link: USGS Astro - Mars Global Surveyor, status reports, news, and more about this science mapping mission

Scientist Dave Roddy

Thursday, March 21, 2002

U.S. Geological Survey, Astrogeology Team Emeritus David John Roddy passed at 9:40 in the morning, March 21 at St. Louis hospital while on a short trip. He had gone into the hospital complaining of chest pains and ruptured an aorta while undergoing a heart scan. He died immediately.

More: USGS Astro - Dave Roddy's Biography