I was looking for someplace where you could do planetary science, and there basically were very few places in the country. There was Harold Urey, there was Gerard Kuiper, there was Fred Whipple—Urey at UCSD I guess at that time, and then Whipple at Harvard. I applied and came out here, and thought that was really exciting.
I was at Steward Observatory as an astronomy graduate student with most of my classes there, and across the campus was LPL, in the PMM building, and I had my assistantship and office there. There was Dale Cruikshank, there was Alan Binder, there was Toby Owen who was a year or two ahead of us. But what courses could we take? In astronomy we were studying stellar interiors and stellar atmospheres and so forth—not planets. So Dale and Al and I got involved with the Geology Department.
Spencer Titley was on the faculty in geology. He was already working with the Flagstaff group of Gene Shoemaker. That group was the predecessor of, or maybe it already was, the Astrogeology Group in the in U.S. Geological Survey, which is still in Flagstaff. Certainly in Arizona at the time, those were the two big centers. Kuiper and Shoemaker were already carving out groups to study the surface of the Moon when I arrived in June of ’61.
My job in the assistantship was making these rectified photographs of the Moon, and doing a lot of work in the darkroom—which, incidentally, was a nice little highlight to arriving in Arizona in the summer, because the darkroom was always 68 degrees.
Titley, in the Geology Department, took us under his wing. He really did a wonderful thing. Cruikshank and Binder and myself, he took the three of us on, on kind of a crash program of petrology and mineralogy and so on. He took us out on some field trips—I remember we all packed into some vehicle and went off to some mine that he was showing us in the Whetstone Mountains.
Spencer Titley was an economic geologist, and he wanted to be in the Space Program. He wanted to get into the Gemini program; had a big portfolio of letters to NASA saying scientists should be involved. He was involved with Gene Shoemaker at the United States Geological Survey in terms of the stratigraphic mapping they were doing.
Well, Kuiper had zero interest in students. We were on our own. He would not help us in any way. We were there to work in the Lunar Lab and be his assistants, although we learned a lot of stuff so it’s not all that bad. Although I must point out that the first semester as a graduate student, I was observing at McDonald Observatory for two weeks with Kuiper during final exams, so I had to take my final exams early, and his attitude was, “Well, just tell your professors to give you an A.” But I was supposed to walk up and say, “I’ve got to go observe with Kuiper, give me an A”? It doesn’t work that way.
So we were on our own. Spence said, “Hey, come on over to the Geology Department, take whatever courses you need, and I’ll help you get the basics of geology”—because we had no geology, of course. What I was studying, trying to, was what we now call planetary science. There are degrees now. In those days, there were no degrees, it was all: What on earth are we supposed to study? What are we going to need to do this work? It was clear we needed geology of some kind.
You probably know, Kuiper had written a series of books—Barbara Middlehurst edited the latter of those—but he had written The Earth as a Planet. He understood that the study of the planets was not astronomy anymore. Clearly one had to understand geology and geophysics and so forth and so on. I had come to that conclusion too.
So it moved in this direction, but in the beginning it was very confusing as to what we were supposed to do and how we were supposed to get educated.
The students came to me. We did not have any kind of program in what they wanted. As I recall them telling me, they were brought here by Kuiper, with the understanding that they would be able to get a degree of some sort in planetary science or astronomy or whatever. They were a mix of physics and electronics and Russian and astronomy combined minors or majors, and there were three of them: Bill Hartmann, Dale Cruikshank and Alan Binder. I agreed to take them on.
There was a coincidence of these three fellows coming in and my involvement with the U.S. Geological Survey on this new, exciting thing with lunar mapping, lunar geology. I hand-tooled them, in a sense. We had special courses, and I tried to take physicists and astronomers and turn them into geologists—fairly successfully, I think, because they were bright people. That was simply how the program worked. Along the way, others from the Survey came in; others unrelated to the Lunar Lab. I had nothing to do with the Lunar Lab, and Kuiper never spoke one word to me about the program.
I combined lunar mapping and these projects with what these fellows were doing. I set up courses—one course, chiefly, plus seminars that they attended—and they were open to outside students. It wasn’t until about 1972 that the Department of Planetary Sciences formed.
We used to go out on field trips: We’d go down to the Pinacates two or three times a year, and up to Flagstaff. It was just a small group of guys. We all had the same interests, and we all wanted to learn about craters and volcanoes. Spence Titley would take us out on field trips to try to help us get caught up. I definitely wanted to be an Apollo astronaut. Bill I don’t think really cared, Dale didn’t care about that so much, but I wanted to explore, I wanted to get my feet on the ground.
Kuiper had done a lunar atlas that he had published just when he was leaving Yerkes in 1960. It’s a big red cardboard box, must be about two feet by a foot-and-a-half wide, full of large pictures of the Moon. We used those atlas sheets to compile a catalogue of the craters on the Moon, on the near side of the Moon.
I think most of the other people were not students. Some were students and some were people who were hired just to do that all day; Dai Arthur, David William. Dai Arthur is one of the Brits that Kuiper brought over. A couple hours a day after classes I would go and use rulers and measure these craters. It was before computers were widely available; certainly no personal computers had been invented. So we used these old-fashioned adding machines and calculating machines, where to multiply you would key in the numbers, like in a cash register, and then you’d pull a crank multiple times and it would chug, chug, chug, and finally multiply two numbers together.
I did that for four years. I worked my way through school as an undergraduate by measuring craters on the Moon. And the fascinating thing about that is, I still like the Moon. By looking at every single crater that we measured—I was the person who looked at all of them to make sure it was consistent—I really learned the Moon very well. It’s been really a fascination that’s kept going for me for a long time.