Food & Flight: Harrison Schmitt’s Chili

Posted on Tue, August 16, 2016
  • by: MaryCate Most, Digital Experiences Intern

Schmitt Lunar Roving Vehicle

Scientist-astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt is photographed seated in the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV). He drove the vehicle approximately 35 kilometers (22 miles) while on the Moon for the Apollo 17 mission. Image: NASA, AS17-134-20454

Harrison “Jack” Schmitt was the first and last geologist to visit the Moon. Below is his secret chili recipe, served best with a side of tortilla chips and some space history.

We can’t help with the chips, but we can tell you a little about this chili-making astronaut. Schmitt served as a backup crewmember for Apollo 15 and wasn’t scheduled to head into space until Apollo 18. However, when the Apollo 18 mission was cancelled, NASA knew they needed to reschedule him so that they could get a geologist on the Moon.

And it’s a good thing they did. Schmitt’s work on the Moon was critical to the study of lunar geology. For example, the Mars rover Opportunity took roughly 10 years to cover the same distance that Schmitt was able to cover in just three days.

Apollo Schmitt on Moon

Scientist-astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt, Apollo 17 lunar module pilot, collects lunar rake samples at Station 1 during the mission's first spacewalk at the Taurus-Littrow landing site. Image Credit: NASA

One of the more notable moments of the Apollo 17 mission happened when Schmitt discovered orange soil. On prior missions, astronauts had noticed dark haloed, which they suspected could be young volcanisms. When Schmitt discovered the orange soil, he believed at first it could be evidence of a young volcanic deposit. Naturally, he and Cernan were ecstatic about this uncommon find.

It's orange!

The following is the transcript from the conversation between astronaut Eugene Cernan and Schmitt, just as Schmitt discovers orange soil on the surface of the Moon. The lines in brackets are commentary later provided by Cernan and Schmitt, explaining what was going on in this moment.

Schmitt: Oh, hey! (Very brief pause)
[Jack has just seen the orange soil. He is cautious, having been fooled by sunlight reflected off the LCRU at the Scarp stop.]

Schmitt: Wait a minute...
Cernan: What?
[Fendell starts panning slowly counter-clockwise.]

Schmitt: Where are the reflections? I've been fooled once. There is orange soil!!
[Schmitt - "The orange soil was several meters away from the Rover, up closer to the boulder. The orange spots of light that I saw reflected off the LCRU at the Scarp stop were tiny things; the Mylar covering the LCRU was crinkled, and you only got small spots every once in a while when the Sun angles were just right. When I spotted the orange soil, I probably hadn't even started the pan. What I probably saw was the scuff marks I'd made when I went over to the boulder. Actually you could see the orange through the regolith, but it was more obvious after you'd stirred it up."]
[The patch of orange soil will become discernible in the TV picture once Fendell has panned around to the boulder.]

Cernan: Well, don't move it until I see it.
[Cernan - "Quite frankly, when Jack said he saw orange soil, I began to wonder if he hadn't been on the Moon too long. Until I saw it myself."]

Schmitt: (Very excited) It's all over!! Orange!!!
Cernan: Don't move it until I see it.
Schmitt: I stirred it up with my feet.
Cernan: (Excited, too) Hey, it is!! I can see it from here!
Schmitt: It's orange!
Cernan: Wait a minute, let me put my visor up. It's still orange!
[Cernan - "Like a pair of ordinary sunglasses, the visor attenuated the light but didn't really change the colors. If it was red, it was red; if it was blue, it was blue. But you could see the colors better with the visor up. I do that flying; I take my sunglasses off if I really want to see things clearly. So lifting up the visor was a natural thing for me to do."]

Schmitt: Sure it is! Crazy!
Cernan: Orange!
Schmitt: I've got to dig a trench, Houston.

Shortly after this discovery, Schmitt began to reconsider whether the orange soil could be volcanic after all. Based on his geological studies, the crater looked like an impact crater rather than a young volcanism. Upon further examination, Schmitt realized his second prediction had been right. The soil was not volcanic, but instead, dark material that had been excavated during the impact itself.

To this day, Schmitt is very involved in the geological community. He frequently attends and occasionally speaks at the annual Geological Society of America meeting and has written a book, Return to the Moon. In the book, Schmitt argues that the Moon may act as a source of energy resources for future generations and that settlement on the moon may lead to a greater era of space exploration. Using the Moon for settlement, mining and storing resources, Schmitt envisions new ways to generate clean energy and explore the galaxy.

If you are looking to study another slightly orangey (but significantly more delicious) substance, check out Jack’s special chili recipe below:

Schmitt’s Special Chili
(serves 4)


  • 1 pound lean ground beef or pork
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 cup cooked whole frijoles and juice
  • 1 pint fresh (or canned) chili paste
  • 1 large tomato
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 large sweet pepper
  • 1 green chili
  • Salt


  1. Sauté ground beef or pork and season to taste with rosemary, sage, and pepper.
  2. Simmer together chili paste and frijoles and add to meat mixture.
  3. Coarsely chop vegetables and green chili, add to meat mixture, and cook over low head for about 1 hour, stirring from time to time.
  4. Add salt to taste. Serve immediately with fresh tostados or corn chips.

Recipe from the Smithsonian's Famous Personalities of Flight Cookbook