Apollo 11 and the inspiration it left behind in Arizona

From Flagstaff to the moon

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - It was one small step for mankind, but a major moment in human history.

The lunar landing has left an impact, including right here in our state.

As she looked back at old photos, 90-year-old Carolyn Shoemaker remembered her part of history well.

“To be part of something they could see that was not only going to go somewhere,” Shoemaker said. “It was going to be really different and exciting.”

NASA didn’t land on the moon without help, and that’s how Flagstaff comes into play.

“There was so much in favor of Flagstaff for the space program,” she said.

Flagstaff boomed in the 1960s as astronauts trained in Northern Arizona. The atmosphere in the mountains was just right for practice.

Without Carolyn’s husband, Eugene, this training may have happened somewhere else.

“He decided the best place to headquarter was Flagstaff,” she said.

Gene Shoemaker brought the United States Geological Survey’s astrogeology program to the mountains.

Several things were done in the City of the Pines for preparation. It was there people mapped the moon, astrogeologists taught astronauts about rocks and astronauts rode Grover the Rover over craters.

Jerry Schaber, a retired astrogeologist, worked for Gene. He’ll tell you together they worked hard to make historic moves.

“Buzz and Neil did a good job of describing the soil, the texture and the rocks,” Schaber said. “They couldn’t have done it without Gene’s instructions.”

While it was a successful time, it wasn’t always easy for people like Carolyn.

“Families and wives consoled each other because husbands were gone most of the time,” she said.

Carolyn said she was home until her kids grew up. Then, her career began and something about astronomy caught her eye.

"Thinking about what was up there. How very far away everything was," she said. "How exciting it was to see an asteroid or a comet."

For her, the term star-crossed lovers has a different meaning.

“There was an opportunity to learn about the skies with my husband,” she said. “You can’t often say you can work with your husband without a lot of disagreement. This was a project we were able to work on together and just enjoy.”

Carolyn holds the record for the most comet discoveries of any person. That was before technology that looks for them came into existence.

She's found more than 800 asteroids and 32 comets.

Carolyn and Gene, along with friend David Levy, discovered a comet that struck Jupiter in the early 1990s.

Their lunar legacy continues, even after Gene passed away in 1997.

His remains were sent up to the moon and scattered among the stars.

Shoemaker knows the precise crater they landed in. It’s named after him, just like the USGS building in Flagstaff.

But the place he lives on most is in Carolyn’s heart.

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