University of Texas at Austin

Friday, July 10, 2009

How Glen Evans settled the dustup over moon dust

To mark the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Further Findings is highlighting ways The University of Texas at Austin and its people touched or were touched by the mission. Know of others? Let us know.

Glen EvansThe moon is covered with a layer of dust. NASA scientists and engineers knew that much.

But there was a hot debate about the depth of the dust.

The thin dusters thought there was a thin layer of dust that would not interfere with the landing of the Apollo lunar landing module. The thick dusters thought the dust was so deep that the lander might sink out of sight.

Not wanting to risk that humankind’s grand achievement of a lunar landing would turn into a disappearing act, NASA did what it had to do: It convened a conference of experts.

One of the experts invited was Glen Evans, a geologist from Texas. His credential what that he had done extensive analysis of the meteor crater near Odessa.

Evans was also an archeologist and a naturalist. He had worked for the Bureau of Economic Geology and had been associate director of the Texas Memorial Museum, both part of The University of Texas at Austin.

While he had a lot of experience in geology, his greatest skill was his keen sense of observation, according to Dr. Michael Collins, a researcher at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory.

Collins has known Evans since Collins was 14 years old. He tells what happened when Evans went to Washington for the NASA conference.

As the conference wore on the thin dusters could not persuade the thick dusters nor could the thick dusters persuade the thin dusters. They were stuck in the mud.

Finally, after all the experts had their say with charts and graphs and slides and such, the floor was opened for questions.

Evans, who had not been invited to make a formal presentation, got up. He asked to see a photo of a moon crater shown by an expert.

When the slide came up on the screen, Evans described what he saw.

The crater had a classic upfold lip, created when a meteor struck the surface. He noted that a piece of bedrock as big as a boxcar had broken off and rolled into the crater.

From the photo, you could see where the rock broke from the crater, the track of its roll and where it landed. The rock was almost completely visible.

Apparently, there was a collective “aha” throughout the room.

With Evans’s insight, NASA could proceed to build a lunar lander that would land on a stable surface.

Collins said he heard the story third hand. He heard it from Gene Mears, a colleague of Evans. Mears had heard it from Eugene Shoemaker, the noted astrogeologist, who was at the meeting.

He never heard it from Evans, Collins said. He said Evans is not the kind of man who tells a story like that about himself.

Evans did acknowledge the story, however. Collins wrote the introduction for a book Evans wrote, “Wildness at Risk,” and included the moon story in the introduction. Collins read the introduction to Evans, who said that nothing had to be changed.

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» How Glen Evans settled the dustup over moon dust



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