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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 February 2007, 12:57 GMT
Astronauts should 'ski the Moon'
By Jonathan Fildes
Science and technology reporter, BBC News, San Francisco

Harrison Schmitt (Nasa/Moonpans.com)
Harrison Schmitt moves across the lunar terrain towards the Moon buggy

Astronauts heading to the Moon should learn the art of cross-country skiing, a scientist who flew on the last lunar Apollo mission claims.

Harrison Schmitt, part of the 1972 Apollo 17 crew, said it would allow them to explore faster and more easily.

Addressing scientists in San Francisco, he said his knowledge of Nordic skiing had allowed him to glide effortlessly across the dusty lunar surface.

The US space agency (Nasa) will send manned missions to the moon by 2020.

"When you're cross-country skiing, once you get a rhythm going, you propel yourself with a toe push as you slide along the snow," explained Dr Schmitt.

"On the Moon, in the main you don't slide, you glide above the surface. But again, you use the same kind of rhythm, with a toe push."

Speed skate

Talking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, Dr Schmitt said that because gravity was just one-sixth that of Earth, astronauts would not need skis themselves.

"Poles would be nice to have for stability," said Dr Schmitt, the first and only scientist to land on the Moon.

To stop, a lunar explorer would just have to dig into the powdery lunar dust, he said.

"The debris layer is very soft - you can dig your heels in very easily," he added.

Dr Schmitt's recommendation is based on personal experience.

Video footage taken on the third and final excursion of his mission saw Dr Schmitt using his preferred technique to negotiate a boulder field near the Van Serg crater.

"You'd be amazed how fast I'm going," he recalled

The geologist estimates that he could travel between 10 and 12km/h (6-7mph), a speed he believes could make him the fastest man on the Moon.

Lunar hop

He said that he had developed the technique after watching other Apollo astronauts and that he had tried to encourage the other two members of the Apollo 17 crew to learn Nordic skiing during training.

"I tried to convince my pilot colleagues to take a few weekends off to learn cross-country skiing because that is the way to move rapidly and easily with little energy expenditure across the surface of the Moon," said Dr Schmitt.

Nordic skiing (AP)
An inspiration to moonwalkers
But Eugene Cernan and Ronald Evans did not take the advice. For the landing it was Cernan who accompanied Dr Schmitt to the surface.

He, like other moonwalkers, adopted a "bunny hop technique, where they hopped with both feet", observed the only geologist to visit the Moon.

Dr Schmitt believes his method could be useful for future explorers, particularly when they have to move quickly during an emergency.

He envisages a more flexible space suit to facilitate the athletic movements.

And once the Moon is colonised, Dr Schmitt believes that skiing could become an ideal pastime for the lunar pioneers.

In particular, the Apollo 17 landing site on the mountainous eastern rim of the Sea of Serenity would make an ideal alpine skiing spot, he said.

"I think there are some excellent downhill skiing areas there."

US plans for Moon base
05 Dec 06 |  Science/Nature
Lockheed to build Nasa 'Moonship'
31 Aug 06 |  Science/Nature

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