|Early Days Gerard Kuiper Missions to the Moon Telescopes & Research|
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Way back in the beginning Kuiper and that bunch were advising the lunar astronauts what to do when they got to the Moon. To give them a little bit of ground realism, they used to haul them down to a volcanic area just over the border of Mexico called the Pinacate Mountains. It’s a volcanic field. There are cinder cones and calderas, the geologists call it, which is basically a circular hole in the ground that’s created by some kind of explosion.
So they took the astronauts down there at least once and they went around with their rock hammers and picked samples and stuff like that. Bill and Dale and Alan were part of that. They were very geologically-oriented, at least in those days.
Then they started going down there just on their own for fun. I used to go down there with them. We’ve made many trips down to the Pinacates—go down there, camp out, take some pictures. My buddy Chuck Wood did his master’s thesis down there, marching across some of the craters with a gravity-measuring device and a magnetic field-measuring device, which gives you some clue as to what’s under the ground there—big masses of basaltic rock have a little more density, so you get a microscopic extra gravity down there.
So some real science was done down there, but it was also a lot of fun. Nobody else went there. We pretty much had it to ourselves. Then it got to be more widely known, of course, and it suddenly became popular to go out into nature, so lots of people started going down there. The Mexicans turned it into a National Park, and now there’s a bunch of rules and regulations. Hardly anybody ever goes down there anymore. But in the old days it was a great thing. It was the closest thing to going to the Moon that we could do.
In the late sixties I had long hair, and marched in some protests and whatnot, and so Kuiper thought I was sort of the resident hippie of the Lunar Lab. But he knew me, so he knew I was all right. He would come to work every Saturday morning and he would get lonely or something. Every once in a while he would send the student worker over to my apartment, and she’d knock on the door. I’d usually be asleep—this was Saturday mornings—and she’d say, “Dr. Kuiper wants to talk to you.”
So I’d go over there and he’d just ask me a few questions about something and then he would start storytelling. He told me about after World War II when he was trying to find [Wernher] von Braun, who was the German rocket designer, because the United States wanted to bring von Braun back to the U.S. before the Russians got him. He had part of a German rocket motor that von Braun had built in his office, which he showed me, and he talked about his early days as an astronomer. It was really amazing to have him need an audience, and I was the audience.
He was concerned that the students were going to riot at the University; that they’d be so upset with the U.S. government that they’d riot. He thought because the Lunar Lab was funded by the federal government that they might attack our building sometime. So I had to assure him several times that I didn’t think the students knew the Lunar Lab was funded by the government, or cared.
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Lunar and Planetary Laboratory
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