University Librarian Harriette Hemmasi and NASA Astronaut David Scott
The Brown University Library is honored to have received a gift that is truly out of this world. In late 2013, David Scott, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel and NASA Astronaut, gave the Library the world’s only complete collection of flight literature that has traveled to the Moon’s surface. On April 19, 2014, Scott, along with Brown University Professor of Geological Sciences James Head, space flight historian and appraiser Lawrence McGlynn, University Librarian Harriette Hemmasi, Director of Special Collections and the John Hay Library Tom Horrocks, and a small handful of awed Library staff members gathered in the Rockefeller Library Patrick Ma Digital Scholarship Lab (DSL) for an informal ceremony, during which the items in the Flight Data File were viewed, discussed, and transferred to the Library.
Since his role as spacecraft commander of the 1971 Apollo 15 mission, the fourth to land men on the Moon, Scott has carefully maintained his copy of the many paper-based materials used during the manned spaceflight: flight plans, checklists, timelines, star charts, logs, maps, and manuals. Leading up to and throughout the mission, each item was continually consulted and new entries were made. Scott’s own handwriting can be seen on the checklists and logs and the maps are visible in photographs of the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) as it explores the Moon’s surface. Lawrence McGlynn, who spoke about the historical significance of the individual pieces and the collection as a whole, counseled the Library, “Whatever you do, don’t dust them off! That’s lunar dust.”
Lawrence McGlynn points out the lunar surface maps in a photo of the LRV
Before the presentation began, Scott and Head had the opportunity to look at a detailed image of the Moon’s surface on the massive, high-resolution screens in the DSL. Scott grabbed a ruler and pointed out the site where the Lunar Module Falcon landed on July 30, 1971 (Hadley Rille/Apennine Mountains) and the areas in which the crew collected rock and soil samples. Scott was also able to point out the tracks left by the LRV, still there today. When Head asked Scott jokingly why he didn’t pick up more of the rocks, Scott responded, “I left those there for you.”
Scott and Head have been colleagues for many years, a working relationship that has become a close friendship. Head, prior to his appointment as a faculty member of the Geological Sciences Department at Brown, worked for NASA and took his place in the Control Center during every mission to the Moon. His connection to Scott and the space program is what led Scott to think of Brown as the home for this valuable collection. Unlike other astronauts who have sold off pieces of their flight literature, Scott recognized their importance as historical artifacts and their value to scholarship. He sought to find a home for the collection that would keep it intact and fulfill his desire to have it used for research and study. His relationship with Head, Head’s history of collaboration with NASA, and the good work and reputation of Brown’s Geological Sciences Department convinced Scott to give the collection to the University Library. As Scott stated during the event, “Brown is the right place for this.”
Brown Professor Jim Head and NASA Astronaut David Scott
After jovial discussion and reminiscences about the Apollo program between Scott, Head, and McGlynn—fascinating to all others fortunate to be in the room—the presentation of the collection began. The large box of materials was opened, and McGlynn, wearing protective gloves, gently lifted the launch checklist and handed it to Scott, who then handed it to University Librarian Harriette Hemmasi, signaling the official transfer of the collection from Scott to the Library.
McGlynn gave a brief online presentation about the rarity and value of the collection and highlighted several items. Thirty days prior to launch, over 26,000 pounds of paper copies of the Flight Data File were sent to the various NASA field centers. Significantly, the set donated by Scott is the only copy that went to the Moon. The items McGlynn highlighted include the launch checklist, timeline book, star charts, logbook of lunar surface collections, and the stowage list.
Each facet of the mission, from pre-launch to splash down, was planned and documented in the File’s timelines, to the minute, and checklists for the crew included everything from when and how to operate the equipment to reminders to eat and drink. The astronauts themselves created most of the checklists as they practiced over and over during the two and a half years of training prior to the mission—so that the steps became second nature. McGlynn mentioned the “T3” motto: “train ‘em, trust ‘em, and turn ‘em loose,” developed by the team made up of faculty from several universities, members of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and staff members at NASA who trained the astronauts. But with the complexity of the mission and the constant time pressure the astronauts faced, the checklists proved invaluable to the crew during the round trip to the Moon.
Scott and James Irwin, lunar module pilot, made most of the handwritten entries in the Flight Data File. One of the items containing the largest amount of handwriting is the logbook of lunar surface collections. It reads as a diary of sorts, written in natural language by Scott and Irwin, documenting the locations in which items were found, their weight, and general descriptions. Among the items Scott and Irwin found and collected on this mission are the most famous Moon rock, the Genesis Rock, a sample of the ancient lunar crust, and green clods of volcanic glass beads, all of which led to the recent discovery of water on the Moon by Brown Professor Alberto Saal.
Logbook of lunar surface collections
Star charts were used throughout the flight to locate where the Falcon was in space. The astronauts had to find 36 specific stars, look at the stars through a sextant, and signal the computer, which then recorded the exact location of the spacecraft. Amazingly, the on-board computer contained merely 36K bytes of memory. Despite its limited computing power, the software code written for the mission computer contained such precision that it provided the necessary intelligence to support a manned flight to the Moon and back to Earth. That alone is worthy of study.
Indeed, the entire space program remains a marvel of planning, coordination, and engineering that had several important ties with Brown University. Mentioned with great respect by McGlynn was Brown alumnus Howard “Bill” Tindall, Jr. ‘48, whom NASA named Honorary Flight Director in honor of his illustrious service. Tindall coordinated the efforts of all the engineers involved in the Apollo missions. Well known for his humorous and folksy memos, coined “Tindallgrams,” Tindall ensured the many successes of the Apollo program through his meticulous planning and skillful handling of debate and discussion among the hundreds of people integral to putting human beings in space. This collection of Apollo 15 flight literature is a testament to Tindall’s planning and coordination and will serve as an enduring example of excellence in engineering.
Though David Scott had a significant financial incentive to sell the flight literature, he commendably chose to give this collection to the Brown University Library so that it can be preserved for posterity and made available to scholars and students around the world as a unique resource to enhance research and understanding of how a complex mission like Apollo 15 could be successfully completed. In all, the collection is a vital record of one of humankind’s most impressive achievements, a tangible artifact from the Moon, and a model of planning and engineering. And, as McGlynn stated during his presentation, “When you touch this today, you have touched the Moon.” Now it is up to the researchers and students at Brown and elsewhere to discover where this collection will take them next.