Neil Armstrong: First Man on the Moon, and Its First Great Geologist

There was a conference that took place in March in Houston called the Lunar and Planetary Science conference that featured Dr. Harrison Schmitt who is one of the two astronauts who took a detour to moon during the Apollo 17.

He started the conference by showing the audience a picture of Neil Armstrong and paying tribute to the man who brought about all the answers this world needed about the moon. According to Dr Schmitt, if the Apollo programs ceased after Neil’s visit, our world would still have enough samples to answer all our queries about the solar system and moon.


Image: NASA, via Associated Press

Luck was seemingly to be with Armstrong as while trying to make his collection box full, he threw in some soil and it contained anorthosite. And half a year later, a scientist working at University of Chicago and the other working at Harvard university came up with the whole theory that moon was once an ocean of magma. This led to the hypothesis that moon is formed after the Earth collided with a Mars like body.

Lunar sample of granular collected by Apollo 11 Astronauts

Image: NASA

Even though the landing site was chosen because it looked relatively safer than all others, it somehow worked out because Armstrong collected basalts and breccias that rewrote the whole knowledge of solar system for us. The rocks are almost known to be about 4.5 billion years old.

According to Dr Schmitt, all the samples combined help us in acknowledging the fact that there are potential resources in space and maybe even on earth for our future use. Scientists begin to estimate the age of the rocks by observing the craters on them. The other Apollo landings on some different sites then gave us the ages of those regions and scientists could correlate everything by observing the numbers of craters found in each place. This was a big development as since then scientists have found a calibrated crater count that helps them in determining the age of any body found throughout our solar system.

Armstrong at work on the moon

Image: NASA

There are still some pot holes found in the story as the whole record of the dates has this huge gap of two billion years. This is because of the Apollo missions landing on older places of the moon and not quite being able to land at the place which can fill up this whole in our calendars. The scientists have since been trying to estimate the ages of younger regions.

The deputy chief scientist of NASA asked, “which is the correct chronology? That part of the curve is unconstrained. We desperately need new samples.” To overcome this gap in the years and answer some more question, Dr Draper and his team has come up with a robotic mission which will help bring five ounces of rock from the parts of moon which are not visited yet and are known to be younger and smoother. Then the scientists could determine the age of the samples. This mission is called the Inner Solar System Chronology or Isochron.

The advantage that the robotic explorers will have over Armstrong from back in 1969 is that they could do a lot more than Neil could do with a very basic space suit and his hand holding sticks to collect samples. But if you are wondering how the moon looks, Armstrong once said after taking his first steps on the moon, “It has a stark beauty all its own, it is like much of the high desert of the United States of America. It is different, but it’s very pretty out here.”


Neil Armstrong - Wikipedia