July 20th was the forty-fifth anniversary of the very first moon landing, but this milestone was only a small part of the extensive success of the Apollo program, most of which was carried out during Richard Nixon’s presidency. The program was proposed by Canadian engineer Owen Maynard in September 1967 and dedicated to fulfilling President Kennedy’s national goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. It remains the only human spaceflight program to involve direct access to the moon: during the course of six total moon landings, twelve men have walked on the moon’s surface.
Apollo Moon Landing Spots

The locations and Apollo mission numbers of the six moon landings.

Geologist and lunar scientist Paul D. Spudis recently recalled his experience with the Apollo 15 lunar landing. The 43rd anniversary of Apollo 15 was this Saturday, July 26th. The anniversary of  ought not to be overshadowed by Apollo 11, but celebrated in its own right.

The mission of Apollo 15, which had the crew spend three days on the Moon, was the fourth lunar landing and one of the most scientifically important. At the time, NASA called it the most successful man flight ever achieved. The chief development of this mission was the use of the Lunar Roving Vehicle, a small cart which transported the astronauts around the surface of the moon. For the first time, humans could not only walk on the moon, but drive on it. The “moon buggy” traveled 27.8 km, slightly longer than the LRV of the Apollo 16 mission and shorter than that of Apollo 17. All three LRVs remain on the surface of the moon.

James Irwin and LRV

Lunar Module Pilot James Irwin with the Lunar Roving Vehicle

Spudis remembers the extensive scientific training which the three astronauts, David Scott, James Irwin, and Alfred Worden, underwent in the field of geography. This knowledge was essential for this particular mission, since they landed on one of the most complicated spots on the moon’s surface, the rim of the Imbrium impact basin. This rim was near the lunar Mt. Hadley, part of the lunar Apennine Front.

Apollo 15 East Landing Site

Looking east from the landing site.

Observing the Apollo 15 astronauts studying the geology of the moon inspired Spudis to pursue the field for himself. He claims, from personal experience, that one of the most important reasons to continue the human spaceflight program is its sheer intellectual and academic worth. President Nixon frequently showed his support for the Apollo missions, ventures which inspired thousands of students of all ages, like Spudis, throughout the early 1970s. Our enduring interest and excitement in outer space remains one of the most profound legacies of the Nixon administration.