Meeting a Moonwalker

A number of months ago my friend Ray Beach at NASA’s Glenn Research Center invited me to come and talk to a meeting of their local INCOSE (International Council on Systems Engineering) group in Cleveland, Ohio. So I got in the car and drove 640 miles last Sunday to be there Monday morning at the Ohio Aerospace Institute where I would give my presentation.

The keynote speaker that day was Dr. Harrison Schmitt. Dr. Schmitt is a member of one of the most elite groups of all humanity: he is one of only twelve men to walk on the surface of the Moon. Dr. Schmitt, back when he was a young man of 37, flew on the Apollo 17 mission to the Taurus-Littrow valley near the Sea of Serenity on the Moon. Dr. Schmitt was the only professionally trained geologist to walk on the Moon, and his mission had a remarkable scientific return because of his presence.

Dr. Schmitt was there talking about how we could go to the Moon and mine it for a rare helium isotope implanted in the lunar surface by the solar wind: helium-3. Helium-3 has some special characteristics in advanced fusion reactors that make it more attractive to some than the standard deuterium-tritium fusion approach pursued. Dr. Schmitt and I had the same goal: clean and abundant energy for humanity.

When it was my turn to speak, I used essentially the same slides I employed in my recent talk at Google, but with some verbal expansion on particular points. Afterward, Dr. Schmitt came up to me in the hallway and asked if I might be interested in giving the presentation at the University of Wisconsin, where he is a professor. I responded enthusiastically in the affirmative.

I do not know whether my arguments for thorium and the liquid-fluoride reactor changed any minds of those present at the meeting, but it was a profound honor to meet a man who has made such an incredible journey. It has never happened in my lifetime and I don’t think it ever will.

Dr. Schmitt took this famous picture while he and the Apollo 17 crew returned to Earth. It is the most requested of all NASA images, and has been called a catalyst to the environmental movement.

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