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Family Mountain

Copyright © 2002 by Eric M. Jones.
All rights reserved.
Last revised 9 September 2006.


The Apollo 17 crew chose the name "Family Mountain" for one of the mountains guarding the western entrance to Taurus-Littrow "to honor the families of the crew members and their associates. Their sacrifices go unrecorded but not unrecognized."

The evidence presented below indicates that, prior to the mission, the name "Family Mountain" was applied to a mountain just west of the Scarp and near the base of the North Massif but that, during the mission, the crew applied the name to a larger peak, more prominent as seen from the LM, that lies west of the South Massif. I believe that it is the prerogative of explorers to change their minds. An example is that of Captain James Cook who, in successive drafts of his Journal, changed his choice of name for a famous place he visited from Sting Ray's Harbour to Botanist Harbour to Botanist Bay to Botany Bay. (See J.C. Beaglehole's 'The Life of Captain James Cook', p. 230.)

After discussing the matter with Jack Schmitt, I have chosen to apply, throughout the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, the name (West) Family Mountain to the more prominent peak and (Old) Family Mountain to the smaller peak.

Apollo 17 Mission Report and Preliminary Science Report

Mission Report Figure 4-1 - and Figure 5-3 in the Apollo 17 Preliminary Science Report - indicate that, prior to the mission, the crew applied the name "Family Mountain" to the feature west of the Scarp and due north of the summit of the South Massif. This feature is labeled "F" at the upper right in a pre-flight presentation of horizon views expected at the landing spot. Additionally, the figure on page 28c in the Apollo 17 Press Kit shows the name "Family Mountain" applied to the same feature. For discussion purposes, we will refer to this feature in the following as "Hill F". It is about 11 kilometers WNW of the planned landing point. The location of "Hill F" is also indicated on a labeled detail from AS17-147-22465, which was taken from the LM on the pass over the landing site one orbit prior to the landing.

In direct conflict with this identification of Family Mountain, the captions for Apollo 17 Preliminary Science Report Figures 4-26 and 4-33 (see below) identify Family Mountain as being the much larger, but more distant, feature labeled "Hill E" in the orbital detail.

Specifically, the caption to Figure 4-26, showing a photo (AS17-134-20435) taken at the LM, states that "Family Mountain is 11 km beyond the LRV". Note that while the feature beyond the LRV is "Hill E" as shown in the orbital detail, the distance given is that of "Hill F". "Hill E" is about 20 km from the LM.

Similarly, the caption to Figure 4-33, showing a photo (AS17-137-21011) taken at Station 4, states that "the low mountain centered on the horizon is Family Mountain, 6 km in the distance." Again, the indicated feature is "Hill E", while the distance is that of "Hill F". The distance from Shorty to "Hill E" is about 16 km.

A final source of confusion is the caption for Apollo 17 Preliminary Science Report Figure 4-16, showing a view (AS17-147-22470) out Jack's LM window, which states "Family Mountain, on the horizon from the left margin to the center of the photograph, is almost 11 km distant." A comparison with the orbital detail indicates that three features of interest to the Family Mountain question are present - "Hill F", "Hill E", and a subsidiary peak of the latter, which we call "Peak E-n". See, also, a labeled version of Figure 4-16.

Crew Intentions

During the time that Gene and Jack were on the lunar surface, they made several direct references to Family Mountain.

The first is a comment from Gene to CapCom Gordon Fullerton not long after 114:41:20.

114:xx:xx Cernan: I don't know if it'll mean anything to you, but (on) the shadow of the LM, the rendezvous radar antenna is pointing about one-third of the way down from the peak of Family (Mountain).
As can be seen in AS-17-147-22483, which Gene took out his window before EVA-1, the shadow of the Rendezvous Radar Antenna is pointing at "Hill E"

A few minutes later, Jack Schmitt gave a clear indication as to which feature he was thinking of as Family Mountain.

114:xx:xx Schmitt: Hey, Gordy, right at 12 o'clock, also, is a boulder that's at least 3 meters (high) and maybe 5, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if you can find it (in the overhead photography). It's on a line between us and the intersection of the South Massif and the Family Mountain horizon. Just slightly left of that line or south of that line. And that boulder ought to show up on your best photography.
A representative pre-EVA-1 photo showing the view out Jack's window is AS17-147-22469. The boulder is Geophone Rock and Jack's description clearly points to "Hill E" being Family Mountain.

The next mention comes after the wake-up call for EVA-2.

137:46:14 Schmitt: Okay. Hey, Family Mountain - the northeast facing slope - although lower, has boulders and outcrops...I mean. Belay the "outcrop". (Starting the thought again) It has boulders. From (the appearance of the various) local block concentrations, (it) looks very much like the South Massif does.

At present, I do not have scans of sufficent quality to comment on the presence of boulders on "Hill E". Some 500-mm photos that Gene took of "Hill F" (discussed below) from the Scarp Gravimeter Stop show boulders on the eastern and southeastern slopes. However, the view "Hill F" from the Gravimeter Stop is from the southeast and does not show any detail on the northeastern slope. Unfortunately, there are no 500-mm photos of the portions of "Hill E" visible from the LM.

Views of "Hill F" and "Hill E"

We have alternate perspectives on these hills from various points in the valley.

Station 2

Station 2 is at the base of the South Massif, as shown in a labeled detail from pan camera frame 2309. It's position is such that "Hill E" is completely hidden by the South Massif. "Hill F" is clearly visible in a composite of three frames - AS17-20944, 46, and 48 - from Gene's Station 2 pan. Note the distinctive dark band that runs north-south about halfway up the eastern face.

Rover Pan

About three minutes after leaving Station 2, Gene drove the Rover in a tight circle while Jack took a panorama. Frame AS17-138-21087 shows "Hill F" on the right. On the left, we see a a feature that I believe is the summit of "Peak E-n" shown in a detail from pre-landing photo AS17-147-22465.

Scarp Gravimeter Stop

About two minutes later, Gene and Jack stopped to make measurements with the traverse gravimeter. The location of this Scarp Gravimeter stop is shown in the pan-camera detail. At the location, Gene took a series of 500-mm frames.
144:00:24 Cernan: I've got Family Mountain and some of the hills way off to the right (north) of Family Mountain. I'm at (frame count) 67 on the 500 and I'll give you the reading on the gravimeter.
The first set of frames consists of AS17-144- 22036 to 22040 and show a view past the flank of the South Massif. A tentative identification of features is shown in a labeled composite of frames 22036 and 22039. As indicated, I believe that the prominent peak in these frames is actually the summit of "Peak E-n".

The second set, which Gene says show "some of the hills way off to the right (north) of Family Mountain", consists of frames AS17-144- 22041 to 22045. As indicated in a composite of frames 22043 and 22045, the feature shown is "Hill F".

Light Mantle LRV Sample

During the drive to Station 2 at about 142:06:21, just as they were about to make a brief stop so that Jack could collect a sample of the light mantle with the LRV sampler, Jack's traverse photos, such as AS17-135-20643, show "Hill E" on the left, the summit of "Peak E-n" in the center, and "Hill F" on the right.

Station 4

The next stop that provided a good view to the west was Station 4. A detail from a high-resolution scan of frame AS17-137-21009 from Gene's pan shows "Hill E" and "Hill F". "Peak E-n" is hidden behind "Hill F".

Station 5

The location of Station 5 at Camelot Crater is farther south than that of Station 4, enough so to bring "Hill Peak E-n" into view, as can be seen in a detail from AS17-145-22174, which is a frame from Gene's pan.

Station 8

Finally, frame AS17-142-21728, taken at Station 8 at the base of the Sculptured Hills, gives us the most northerly view of "Hill E" obtained during the Apollo 17 EVAs.


The evidence in hand clearly indicates that, during the time they spent on the lunar surface, Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt applied the name "Family Mountain" to the peak we have been discussing under the working name "Hill E". The only exception was Gene's application of the name to "Peak E-n" during the Scarp Gravimeter Stop. From that location, "Hill E" was hidden by the South Massif and it is easy to imagine that, given the hurried nature of the stop, he did not have time to carefully consider the view. Because "Peak E-n" is adjacent to "Hill E", his 'mistake' is easily understood.
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