For the last Apollo missions, Gene Simmons helped the public go along for the ride.
On December 5, 1972, as hundreds of thousands gathered around Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, an unnamed young man sat alone in his red Vega reading Eudora Welty’s “First Love.” A New York Times reporter asked him whether the event about to take place was an important one. “Well,” he said, “I’m a nihilist, so I don’t think anything’s very important.” Even so, the reporter noted, the man had traveled 700 miles and was prepared to wait for days to witness the launch of Apollo 17, the final mission of the Apollo program.
This outpouring of public support was nearly unprecedented in the realm of science. With the expansion of television and radio broadcasts, audiences at home felt as close to the research as those crowded around the space center. Among the spectators was MIT geologist and EAPS Professor Gene Simmons, a pioneer of scientific outreach who was responsible—at least in part—for fostering this widespread interest.
Following the resignation of the director of science and applications at the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) in Houston—and amid worries that the Apollo program had emphasized development of space transportation over scientific exploration—NASA named Simmons chief scientist of the MSC in 1969. During his two years at NASA—and beyond—he created a series of NASA guidebooks that outlined the final three Apollo missions and were intended to accompany real-time television broadcasts.
“I wrote these guidebooks to help the public follow what was happening on the moon,” Simmons, now a professor emeritus in his late 80s, recalls. “The idea was to get more people involved in following the missions.” He was personally invested in Apollo 17, since the rocket was transporting one of his own experiments aimed at measuring the electrical properties of the moon’s surface.
That mission’s handbook, “On the Moon with Apollo 17,” provided a detailed synopsis of the daily agenda, the intended experiments, and the fundamentals of orbital science. Black-and-white photos from past missions and hand-drawn diagrams of the scientific equipment accompanied his text.
Gene Simmons is an American geophysical and geological researcher. He has been Vice President of Hager-Richter Geoscience Inc. since 1989 when he took early retirement from EAPS, where he had been a Professor of Geophysics, and is currently Professor Emeritus. In his long and distinguished career, he has published extensively in many topics of geology, geophysics, and rock physics.
He was Chief Scientist at NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center (now the Johnson Space Center) in Houston during the Apollo missions to the Moon - he wrote a guidebook to help the public follow the mission.
Photo Credit: Disease Biophysics Group, Harvard University