Moonraker

Painting Completed June 2011
13 x 19 1/2 inches, Textured Acrylic With Moondust On Aircraft Plywood


Apollo 16 astronaut John Young is using a very special rake. It is one that you cannot buy in your local hardware store, because it was designed to quickly scoop up a variety of small lunar rock fragments. This was an improvement in efficient sample collection because cobble-sized rocks were big enough to support extensive laboratory tests, yet small enough to permit a large number to be returned. Another possible benefit from collecting these small rock fragments, scientists had come to realize, was that many of them actually came from other places on the Moon and had been thrown long distances by the force of meteoroid impacts. As a result, these little rock fragments gave the scientists samples from a much wider area than we astronauts could visit.

If Pete and I had this tool way back on Apollo 12, it would have allowed us to collect a variety of rock samples faster and easier than picking them up with our tongs or scoop one small rock at a time. But the lunar rake hadn't been invented yet. It was developed by geologist Lee Silver and first used by Dave Scott and Jim Irwin on the Apollo 15 mission.

The rake looks like an open-mouth basket made from 1/16"-thick, stiff, stainless-steel wires spaced about 1/2" apart. The attached stainless steel handle allowed the rake to be pulled, pushed or swept a few inches below the lunar surface. The fine soil would be left behind, but all rock fragments larger than the spacing between the wires would be captured.

I have painted John at Station 10-prime, not far from their lunar module Orion, on their third moonwalk. He is pulling the rake through the soil hoping to gather a whole rake full of rock fragments. After several pulls, John will dump the rocks into a sample bag held by Charlie Duke. A photograph of the selected area was taken prior to the raking and another will be taken after the samples have been collected. These images will allow scientists back on planet Earth to better understand the orientation, reflectivity, and often the depth of the fragments.

Raking took valuable time and energy, and was not always as productive as we had hoped. Charlie Duke would say to Mission Control as John dumped his catch in sample bag number 349, "John's got two rakes full and all we got was three little frags ... and one of them just dropped out." John added, "That ain't very good ... let me get a couple more." Charlie's final comment was, "John had 20 pounds of soil with one little frag ... and I just dropped it."

When sample bag number 349 got safely back to planet Earth, there were four perfect moonrocks safely tucked inside.

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