Apollo 17 moonwalker hails launch of fellow geologist-astronaut Jessica Watkins

One of the last men to set foot on the moon watched Wednesday as SpaceX's Crew-4 mission for NASA blasted off to the International Space Station on a Falcon 9 rocket. Among the four Crew-4 astronauts are some who NASA is considering for a future lunar trip.

Harrison Schmitt was a member of the 1972 Apollo 17 mission, which landed in the Taurus–Littrow valley on the near side of the moon. He was the first and so far the only geologist to visit the moon and was personally invited to watch launch, which lifted off early Wednesday (April 27) from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, by NASA astronaut and Crew-4 member Jessica Watkins.

Watkins is also a geologist by training (she has a Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles) and has a close connection to Schmitt, in whose footsteps she hopes to follow even further. She is among the astronauts NASA is training for a future lunar trip as part of the agency's Artemis program.

Related: Astronaut Jessica Watkins to become first Black woman on ISS crew
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"Jessica and I worked together a little bit in Houston with the lunar samples during the Apollo 11 50th anniversary celebration," Schmitt said in a NASA interview. "She invited me and my wife, and we sort of consider ourselves the Jessica team."

Schmitt, who will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his own lunar landing in December, said he believed NASA was more than ready to return to the moon and hinted that he hopes to see his friend and protégé to virtually follow in his lunar footsteps. 

"I didn't have the chance to gain the type of operational experience that Jessica is getting," he said, referring to her mission to the International Space Station. "I gained my operational experience from learning to fly T-38s [supersonic jets], helicopters and a lot of simulator time. She is gaining it in space and that's very important. And I hope it will stand her in good stead to be part of one of the Artemis crews."

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Tereza Pultarova
Senior Writer

Tereza is a London-based science and technology journalist, aspiring fiction writer and amateur gymnast. Originally from Prague, the Czech Republic, she spent the first seven years of her career working as a reporter, script-writer and presenter for various TV programmes of the Czech Public Service Television. She later took a career break to pursue further education and added a Master's in Science from the International Space University, France, to her Bachelor's in Journalism and Master's in Cultural Anthropology from Prague's Charles University. She worked as a reporter at the Engineering and Technology magazine, freelanced for a range of publications including Live Science, Space.com, Professional Engineering, Via Satellite and Space News and served as a maternity cover science editor at the European Space Agency.