Earth, Moon, and Planets

, Volume 106, Issue 2–4, pp 133–157 | Cite as

Revolution in Field Science: Apollo Approach to Inaccessible Surface Exploration

  • P. E. Clark


The extraordinary challenge mission designers, scientists, and engineers, faced in planning the first human expeditions to the surface of another solar system body led to the development of a distinctive and even revolutionary approach to field work. Not only were those involved required to deal effectively with the extreme limitation in resources available for and access to a target as remote as the lunar surface; they were required to developed a rigorous approach to science activities ranging from geological field work to deploying field instruments. Principal aspects and keys to the success of the field work are discussed here, including the highly integrated, intensive, and lengthy science planning, simulation, and astronaut training; the development of a systematic scheme for description and documentation of geological sites and samples; and a flexible yet disciplined methodology for site documentation and sample collection. The capability for constant communication with a ‘backroom’ of geological experts who make requests and weigh in on surface operations was innovative and very useful in encouraging rapid dissemination of information to the greater community in general. An extensive archive of the Apollo era science activity related documents provides evidence of the principal aspects and keys to the success of the field work. The Apollo Surface Journal allows analysis of the astronaut’s performance in terms of capability for traveling on foot, documentation and sampling of field stations, and manual operation of tools and instruments, all as a function of time. The application of these analysis as ‘lessons learned’ for planning the next generation of human or robotic field science activities on the Moon and elsewhere are considered here as well.


Lunar and planetary exploration Apollo program Lunar science Surface science Field science Field geology Robotic precursors Science planning 



The author would like to especially recognize Eugene Shoemaker, for establishing the basis for the Apollo Field Methodology and encouraging the author during his lifetime. The author would like to thank Paul Lowman, Don Beatty, Gerry Schaber, and David Portree for their contributions to this work, through their efforts in formal and informal archiving and sharing of Apollo era material, keeping the stories alive, and ‘passing the torch’.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Catholic University of America, NASA/GSFCGreenbeltUSA

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