They listed out all the apollo missions, with blurbs about what the outcomes were, for example here's 15, 16 and 17:

15 - Landed on moon and deployed lunar rover.

16 - Landed on moon and deployed lunar rover. Achieved some geological objectives.

17 - Landed on moon and deployed lunar rover. Achieved very successful geological survey.

Why was it considered "very successful" or was it just the way they worded it in the summary? They didn't really expand on what it accomplished too much, and didn't explain the success of the geological survey more-so than they did for 15 or 16.

TL;DR: What geological objectives did Apollo 17 complete, why were these the most important geological observations of the Apollo program?

I am sorry, the book was "The Book of the Moon" by "Rick Stroud".

For those interested, Russell Borogove has provided mission logs from Apollo 16 and Apollo 17 and mentioned that the logs for 17 have 24 pages on geological survey compared to 4 for Apollo 16. This is assumed currently to be due to the fact that a real geologist was taken on that mission. I'll possibly attempt to answer my own question once I've read those 31 pages.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Please add some context and source citation to the question. Who is the "they" that listed out the Apollo missions? $\endgroup$ Jun 18, 2019 at 21:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Note that A17 was the only Apollo flight to put a scientist on the lunar surface, geologist Harrison Schmitt. While both 16 and 17 did a similar amount of EVA, with the lunar rover enabling them to reach many different sites to sample from, I suspect Schmitt's understanding allowed them to get a better selection of samples than the previous mission. $\endgroup$ Jun 18, 2019 at 21:14
  • $\begingroup$ @RussellBorogove that is exactly my thoughts as well from the 2-3 pages they provided on it. They just wrote the summary 20-30 pages before going into the excerpt of Apollo 17 so I assume they forgot to circle back on the summaries for each mission in their conclusions. Surely, having a scientist is the cause for the success, but also, what was the success they've deemed greater than the other mission outcomes? They also seemed to leave that out. $\endgroup$ Jun 18, 2019 at 21:15
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The mission report for A16 has only 4 pages devoted to "lunar geology", while the A17 mission report has 24 pages on the topic. $\endgroup$ Jun 18, 2019 at 21:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I just google "apollo ## mission report site:nasa.gov". Other queries that have scored me many Stack Exchange points include "apollo ## flight evaluation site:nasa.gov" and "apollo ## technical debriefing site:nasa.gov" $\endgroup$ Jun 18, 2019 at 23:04

1 Answer 1


It's subjective. There are ways to claim that Apollo 17 had the most success, but there are also ways to claim that Apollo 15 was more successful.

The cited text below are from the official NASA webpages for the objectives of each Apollo mission. These were the most detailed listing of Apollo objectives that I could find. I have only cited the scientific objectives, which comprise about 1/3 of the mission objectives; the remaining objectives are about the vehicle, equipment, trajectory, health effects, or photography. It's not always clear which experiments are "geological" (as opposed to other branches of science), but I have done my best trying to mark those in bold.

NASA states whether each objective was achieved, partially achieved, or not achieved.

Apollo 15: 22 scientific objectives, 21 achieved. 9 geological objectives, all achieved. 19:07:53 EVA time, 27.9 km traveled, 76.7 kg of samples.

  1. Contingency sample collection. Achieved.

  2. Apollo Lunar Scientific Experiment Package (ALSEP V).

    a. S-031: Passive seismic. Achieved.

    b. S-034: Lunar surface magnetometer. Achieved.

    c. S-035: Solar wind spectrometer. Achieved.

    d. S-036: Suprathermal ion detector. Achieved.

    e. S-037: Heat flow. Achieved.

    f. S-058: Cold cathode ion gauge. Achieved.

  3. S-059: Lunar geology investigation. Achieved.
  4. S-078: Laser ranging retroreflector. Achieved.
  5. S-080: Solar wind composition. Achieved.
  6. S-160: Gamma ray spectrometer. Achieved.
  7. S-161: X-ray fluorescence. Achieved.
  8. S-162: Alpha particle spectrometer. Achieved.
  9. S-164: S‑band transponder (command and service module and lunar module). Achieved.
  10. S-165: Mass spectrometer. Achieved.
  11. S-170: Downlink bistatic radar observations of the Moon. Achieved.
  12. S-176: Apollo window meteoroid. Achieved.
  13. S-177: Ultraviolet photography of the Earth and Moon. Achieved.
  14. S-178: Gegenschein from lunar orbit. Not achieved. The 14 35 mm photographs scheduled for this experiment were not obtained due to an error in the spacecraft photographic attitudes.
  15. S-200: Soil mechanics. Achieved.
  16. M-078: Bone mineral measurement. Achieved.
  17. M-515: Lunar dust detector. Achieved.

Apollo 16: 19 scientific objectives, 13 achieved. 10 geological objectives, 6 achieved. 20:14:16 EVA time, 26.7 km traveled, 94.3 kg of samples.

  1. S-031: Passive seismic. Partially Achieved. No lunar module ascent stage impact.
  2. S-033: Active seismic. Partially Achieved. The fourth mortar was not fired.
  3. S-034: Lunar surface magnetometer. Achieved.
  4. S-037: Heat flow. Not achieved. Electronics package cable broken.
  5. S-059: Lunar geology investigation. Achieved.
  6. S-080: Solar wind composition. Achieved.
  7. S-152: Cosmic ray detector (sheets). Partially achieved. Partial deployment of panel #4.
  8. S-160: Gamma ray spectrometer. Achieved.
  9. S-161: X ray fluorescence. Achieved.
  10. S-162: Alpha particle spectrometer. Achieved.
  11. S-164: S‑band transponder (command and service module/lunar module). Achieved.
  12. S-165: Mass spectrometer. Achieved.
  13. S-170: Downlink bistatic radar observations of the Moon. Achieved.
  14. S-177: Ultraviolet photography of Earth and Moon. Partially achieved. Timeline changes caused data loss.
  15. S-178: Gegenschein from lunar orbit. Achieved.
  16. S-198: Portable magnetometer. Achieved.
  17. S-200: Soil mechanics. Partially achieved. No trench was dug due to time constraints.
  18. S-201: Far ultraviolet camera/spectroscope. Achieved.
  19. M-191: Microbial response in space environment. Achieved.

Apollo 17: The only mission with a geologist on the moon, Harrison Schmitt. 21 scientific objectives, 19 achieved. 11 geological objectives, 9 achieved. 22:03:57 EVA time, 33.8 km traveled, 110.4 kg of samples.

  1. Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP V).

    a. S‑037: Heat flow experiment. Achieved.

    b. S‑202: Lunar ejecta and meteorites experiment. Partially achieved. Operation was restricted during lunar day due to overheating.

    c. S‑203: Lunar seismic profiling experiment. Achieved.

    d. S‑205: Lunar atmospheric composition experiment. Achieved.

    e. S‑207: Lunar surface gravimeter experiment. Partially achieved. Data obtained in the seismic and free oscillation channels only.

  2. Collect and document samples and study lunar surface geology. Achieved.

  3. S-152:Cosmic ray detector (sheets) experiment. Achieved.
  4. S-164: S‑band transponder experiment (command and service module/lunar module). Achieved.
  5. S-169: Far ultraviolet spectrometer experiment. Achieved.
  6. S-171: Infrared scanning radiometer experiment. Achieved.
  7. S-199: Traverse gravimeter experiment. Achieved.
  8. S-204: Surface electrical properties experiment. Achieved.
  9. S-209: Lunar sounder experiment. Achieved.
  10. S-229: Lunar neutron probe experiment. Achieved.
  11. Heat flow and convection. Achieved.
  12. Long‑term lunar surface exposure. Achieved.
  13. S‑160: Gamma ray spectrometer. Achieved.
  14. S‑176: Apollo window meteoroid. Achieved.
  15. S‑200: Soil mechanics. Achieved.
  16. M‑211: Biostack IIA. Achieved.
  17. M‑212: BIOCORE Achieved.

So which mission was the greater success? Apollo 15 had the most objectives, and completed the largest percentage of its objectives. However, Apollo 17 spent the longest time outside on the moon, traveled the greatest distance, had a geologist on-site, and returned the most rocks. It's therefore a matter of opinion.

  • $\begingroup$ Thats fair! They're both wildly successful :). $\endgroup$ Jun 20, 2019 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ Also, why are certain entries bolded and others not? Bolded are the geological survey objectives right? $\endgroup$ Jun 20, 2019 at 16:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @MagicOctopusUrn: Correct, they're the geological objectives. I state that in the second paragraph. $\endgroup$
    – DrSheldon
    Jun 20, 2019 at 16:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.