I read a piece this week that illustrates the importance of building diversity into our teams.
In the waning days of NASA’s Apollo program, the money was running out. Not to go deep into the why or politics, Apollo 18 was canceled, and NASA had to make decisions on what projects to include in our last visit to the moon, Apollo 17.
The astronaut corps had always been top-loaded with pilots, and for this last mission, it was decided that geologist Harrison Schmidt would be added. He’d been in the astronaut corps since 1965, so he was a known commodity and contributed to the science of earlier missions.
When Apollo 17 touched down on the moon, Schmidt kicked his boot on the lunar surface and discovered red soil underneath — different than the gray dust seen so far. This turned out to a momentous discovery as it was volcanic beads from a lunar “fire fountain” explosion 3.2 million years ago. There are some elements in that soil that do not appear on the Earth’s Periodic Table and defy categorization.
The kicker (pun intended): the dyed-in-the-wool pilots wouldn’t have ever picked up a rock or scuffed the soil without express direction from CAPCOM in Houston. It was the presence of our first (and only) scientist on the moon who used his particular skillset in ways to benefit.