Scouts Shooting for the Moon: The story of twelve Moon walkers, and Scouting


A short piece I presented this morning to the Tom Harbin Scout Museum Symposium on Scout History, a great morning organized by Bob Reitz, the curator of the Jack Harbin Scout Museum at Camp Wisdom, in Dallas, Texas.  Of course the material is copyrighted, but by all means you have permission to use the material at Courts of Honor or in recounting the better history of Boy Scouting.

Scouts Shooting for the Moon:  The story of twelve Moon walkers, and Scouting

This is a recreation with modern numbers of a presentation first used a decade ago.  Searching for material for a speech to honor Eagles at our District Dinner, several people suggested in a short period of time, ‘Why not talk about the astronauts who landed on the Moon.  I hear they were all Eagle Scouts.’  Was that accurate?  It would have been a good story if so.  Research revealed something quite different.  The true story can carry just as much inspiration, however.  Scouting is shown to be a program that can lead to a lifetime of adventure and accomplishment.  Also, Eagles may take some inspiration in knowing they have accomplished something most of the men who walked on the Moon did not.

Speakers constantly need good material for Eagle Scout Courts of Honor and other events honoring Scouts and Scouters.  For one event honoring a group of new Eagle Scouts, several people urged that I research the facts behind the story they had heard, that most, or all of the men who walked on the Moon were Eagle Scouts.  New Eagles would find comfort in knowing they had soared into the midst of such company, they reasoned.

So it came to pass that, before the advent of Wikipedia and Google, I spent hours on the telephone until a press person at NASA pointed out to me a collection of information on astronauts that NASA had thoughtfully put on-line.  At some high cost I printed out the few pages that dealt with the Scouting experience of astronauts, and worked to correlate it with information about which of them had gone to the moon, and which had not.

Anyone can find that book online with ease, today.  The NASA Astronaut Fact Book provides information on almost every detail about NASA’s crew of astronauts, past and present.  It includes one-and-a-half pages on the Scouting background of people working as astronauts and payload specialists for NASA, and others NASA has launched into manned missions.  Cross-indexing that information with lists of Apollo Mission astronauts, I created four short tables showing the Apollo astronauts who went to the Moon, their missions, and the Scout rank they achieved, if any.

Lunar Astronauts and Scouting Experience

Twelve Moon Walkers

  Name Mission Dates on the Moon Scout Rank
1 Neil Armstrong Apollo 11 July 21, 1969 Eagle Scout
2 Buzz Aldrin Apollo 11 July 21, 1969 Tenderfoot Scout
3 Pete Conrad Apollo 12 November 19-20, 1969 Cub Scout
4 Alan Bean Apollo 12 November 19-20, 1969 1st Class
5 Alan Shepard Apollo 14 February 5-6, 1971 1st Class
6 Edgar Mitchell Apollo 14 February 5-6, 1971 Life Scout
7 David Scott Apollo 15 July 31-August 2, 1971 Life Scout
8 James Irwin Apollo 15 July 31-August 2, 1971 None
9 John Young Apollo 16 April 21-23, 1972 2nd Class
10 Charles Duke Apollo 16 April 21-23, 1972 Eagle Scout
11 Eugene Cernan Apollo 17 December 11-14, 1972 2nd Class
12 Harrison Schmitt Apollo 17 December 11-14, 1972 Tenderfoot Scout

Apollo 13

  Name Mission Dates on the Moon Scout Rank
1 Jim Lovell Apollo 13 Lunar Swingby Eagle Scout
2 Jack Swigert Apollo 13 Lunar Swingby 2nd Class
3 Fred Haise Apollo 13 Lunar Swingby Star

Lunar Missions That Did Not Land

  Name Mission Dates on the Moon Scout Rank
1 Frank Borman Apollo 8 Orbited only None
2 Jim Lovell Apollo 8 (&13) Orbited only Eagle Scout
3 William Anders Apollo 8 Orbited only Life Scout
4 Tom Stafford Apollo 10 Orbited only Star Scout
5 John Young Apollo 10 (& 16) Orbited only 2nd Class
6 Eugene Cernan Apollo 10 (& 17) Orbited only 2nd Class

Others Who Did Not Land

  Name Mission Dates on the Moon Scout Rank
1 Michael Collins Apollo 11 Capsule pilot None
2 Dick Gordon Apollo 12 Capsule pilot Star Scout
3 Stewart Roosa Apollo 14 Capsule pilot None
4 Al Worden Apollo 15 Capsule pilot 1st Class
5 Ken Mattingly Apollo 16 Capsule pilot Life Scout
6 Ronald Evans Apollo 17 Capsule pilot Life Scout

In all, 24 men flew to the Moon.  Twelve set foot on the lunar surface.  Of the twelve, eleven were Scouts, two were Eagles.  Of the 24, 20 were Scouts, three were Eagles.

At the time I originally researched, about 70% of all astronauts were alumni of Scouting, men and women.  Officially, BSA lists 181 NASA astronauts as being alumni, 57.4%

NASA lists the colleges and universities astronauts attended.  NASA lists military service, hometowns, and states of birth.  But with the possible exception of a generic category of “public schools,” no category of astronauts is larger than the category of Scouting experience.  If we were advising a young person on how to get to become an astronaut, we would be remiss if we did not advise him or her to join Scouting.

What can we conclude?

Three things became apparent to me in tracking these figures down.  One, I learned once again that the true stories most often carry great value, more value than the stories people make up, or assume.

Two, I learned that Scouting by itself carries great value, without a Scout’s having earned Eagle.  We know that not all the Moon walkers earned the Eagle rank.  But we also notice that no flight ever went to the Moon without at least two Scouts aboard.  Three of the 24 lunar voyagers are Eagles, 12.5%.  Two of the dozen who actually set foot on the Moon are Eagles, 16.7%.  Eleven of the twelve Moon walkers were Scouts, 91.7%.  21 of 24 lunar voyagers were Scouts, 87.5%.

So, while it was not necessary to be an Eagle, it certainly seemed to help.  But simply having Scouting experience seemed to be the biggest help.  There may be some magic in a boy’s having taken that oath that carries through his entire life, and spurs him to do daring and great things.  That is important.  A trend begins to emerge.  Scouting by itself, without earning the highest rank, provides great value.  When a boy signs up, he signs on for the adventure of a lifetime, and often that leads to a lifetime of adventure.  That venturesome spirit carries on well past his Scouting years.

The story of Jim Lovell might carry some great weight with Scouts.  Lovell is the only person to have gone to the Moon twice, but never set foot on it.  He was the commander of Apollo 13, whose near-disaster was chronicled in the movie of the same name.  Among other lessons that might be pulled out of the story:  When your Moon-bound spaceship explodes and loses power on the way to the Moon, it is often good to have an Eagle Scout handy to help get through the experience and return safely.

Is there inspiration here?

When I first presented these figures at a Scout meeting, a parent asked me whether these numbers would discourage boys from working for any rank advancement, since just being a Scout seems to carry such weight.  This should not discourage Eagles, nor discourage any Scout from working to get the Eagle rank.  We should look at it this way:  Every Scout who earns an Eagle has done what ten of the twelve who walked on the Moon did not do, perhaps could not do.  Nine more Moon walkers started on that path to Eagle, but did not finish, or could not finish.   Not every Eagle can go to the Moon, but every Eagle has already won an award that most of those who did go to the Moon wish they had.

Especially in the circles of corporate and government leadership, character, what it is and how to get it, concerns people.  What sort of character does it take to go to the Moon?  Every Scout has a glimpse of what is required, and every Eagle can say, “I know what it takes to get such character.”

Bibliography

Human Spaceflight, “The Apollo Program,” NASA, July 2, 2009; accessed April 28, 2011; http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/history/apollo/

Astronaut Fact Book, NASA,  NP-2005-01-001JSC, January 2005; accessed April 27, 2011; spaceflight.nasa.gov/spacenews/factsheets/pdfs/astro.pdf

BSA, “Facts About Scouting,” 2009; accessed April 28, 2011; http://www.scouting.org/about/factsheets/scoutingfacts.aspx

“Astronauts With Scouting Experience,” Eagle Scout Information, U.S. Scouting Service Project, April 6, 2011; accessed April 29, 2011; http://www.usscouts.org/eagle/eagleastronauts.asp

About the author:

Ed Darrell teaches U.S. History at Moises E. Molina High School in Dallas.  He has taught economics, government, world history and street law in high schools; he also taught at the University of Utah, University of Arizona, and DeVry University.  He is a former speech writer for politicians.  His degree in Mass Communication came from the University of Utah, and his law degree from George Washington University.  This was presented to the Tom Harbin Museum Symposium of Scout History, April 30, 2011.

World Scout badge carried to the Moon by Astronaut Neil Armstrong.

World Scout badge carried to the Moon by Astronaut Neil Armstrong.


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One Response to Scouts Shooting for the Moon: The story of twelve Moon walkers, and Scouting

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