Harrison H. “Jack” Schmitt was part of the last manned mission to the moon. Today, he shared lessons learned from that December 1972 mission with graduates of UT’s College of Arts and Sciences.
During the Apollo 17 mission, the rocket that was to return home needed electrical signals to ignite. Schmitt and his fellow astronauts had several redundant systems to ignite the rocket, including a set of jumper cables as a backup.
“Lunar jumper cables are a reminder to always be prepared as circumstances change,” Schmitt exhorted the 2017 graduates while holding up a set of red and black cables. “Make sure you have jumper cables in your life’s stowage compartment.”
During today’s commencement ceremony, Chancellor Beverly Davenport presented Schmitt with an honorary Doctor of Science and Humane Letters degree. He was one of three commencement speakers this spring to receive honorary degrees. The others were Phil Bredesen, Tennessee’s 48th governor, and Ken Lowe, CEO of Scripps Networks Interactive and creator of HGTV.
During his address, Schmitt told graduates that his years with the Apollo program taught him that “when Americans do great things, we rely on young Americans.
“The average age of the 450,000 engineers, public and private workers, and scientists that enabled Neil Armstrong to be the first man on the moon in 1969—and me to be the 12th such man—was about 25,” he said. “Most of you are very close to that age right now.”
Schmitt added, “As America moves forward toward a future on the moon and Mars, as many thoughtful Americans think it should, it will be your generation that creates that future. It will be your generation that leads the way.”
Schmitt earned a PhD from Harvard University and worked for the US Geological Survey developing tests for lunar exploration. He earned Air Force jet pilot wings and Navy helicopter wings as a civilian in preparation for working with NASA.
He was selected in 1965 for NASA’s Scientist-Astronaut program. He served as a mission scientist for NASA’s Apollo 11 mission and as a backup crew member for Apollo 15.
He was then selected as the lunar pilot for Apollo 17 and became the only scientist to ever visit the moon. It was during this mission that he met Lawrence “Larry” Taylor, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at UT. Taylor was one of the geoscientists based at the Johnson Space Center during the mission.
The friendship forged between Schmitt and Taylor 45 years ago played a critical role in the growth of UT’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. It was instrumental in the forming of UT’s Planetary Geosciences Institute, which has a long and well-established history of work for NASA and the National Science Foundation.
Schmitt visits the UT campus every few years to give talks and to visit with students and faculty colleagues.
Schmitt has served as a US senator from New Mexico and chair of the NASA Advisory Council. His accolades include induction into the International Space Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame. He has had a US Department of State leadership award named in his honor.
Lola Alapo (865-974-3993, firstname.lastname@example.org)