Wheeling University’s Wood Helped to Map the Moon

Photo by Joselyn King Lori Kudlak, assistant director of the Challenger Learning Center at Wheeling University, shows the mission control center simulator room at the center.

WHEELING — He has never been to the moon, but Chuck Wood helped to map it years before Apollo 11’s touchdown on July 20, 1969.

Fifty years later, Wood — who now serves as principal investigator with Natural Institute of Health programs at Wheeling University — laments the U.S. never pushed forward and made progress beyond sending humans to the moon.

“We need to go to Mars,” he said. “We could have been there decades ago if we had followed Apollo further into space.

“Forty years after Columbus discovered America, there were 400,000 Europeans in new world. Fifty years after Apollo 11, we have nobody on the moon. It’s unimaginable we would go explore a new place, then turn away.”

During the 1960s, America competed with Russia in a “space race” to see who would send the first human to the moon.

“Now we’re involved in a new space race,” he said. “The Chinese have landed a ship on the far side of the moon.

“I have to think the next humans who walk on the moon will be speaking Chinese, and not English.”

Wood’s interest in the moon predates the Apollo 11 mission or even former President John F. Kennedy’s call in 1961 for America to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. He said his love of the moon instead was inspired by science fiction writing in the 1950s.

This lead him to the University of Arizona, where as a new student he worked in the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory on a project to map the moon. He achieved a bachelors degree in astronomy.

Following a stint in the Peace Corps, he returned home in July 1969 and watched the launch of Apollo 11 with friends in New York City. Four days later Apollo 11 touched down, and he watched the moonwalk with other friends in Boston. Wood said he took pride in knowing some of the work he had done in Arizona helped the astronauts in their mission.

He returned to the University of Arizona, and earned a masters degree in geophysics. From there, it was on to Brown University for masters and doctorate degrees in planetary science.

“I became a lunar scientist, and I’ve analyzed moon data ever since then,” Wood said.

He went on to work during the 1980s at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, training space shuttle pilots for space flight. From there, Wood went on to academia and providing science education.

“If you want to continue to explore space, you have to have engineers and scientists,” he said. “Today, there are not as many kids excited about space.

“If we did not have students from China and India, most every physics department in the U.S. would close.”

There are not enough scientists in America to continue space exploration, and not enough money, according to Wood.

America has plans to again send a rocket to the moon again and maybe to Mars, but far from enough funding has been set aside, he said. The Trump Administration has allocated $1 billion to the effort, while Wood estimates at least $100 billion would be needed.

He called the spacecraft being proposed by NASA for the moon project “an enlarged version of Apollo” and “not innovative at all.” And almost no engineers believe it is possible to have people living on the moon in the near future, Wood said.

“First we have to design a rocket and a capsule capable of landing on the moon, but our goal is to have permanent habitation,” he said. “Spaceships can’t carry that much water or food, so we would have to have the capability to grow food on the moon.”

And traveling farther to Mars isn’t possible with the current quality of spaceship that would be used.

“It cannot carry enough spare parts,” he said. “And we don’t have the capability of building the life support systems needed to last two years.”

He said while America “has done amazing things with robots in space”, the country has largely walked away from human exploration. It is the human factor that pushes a culture to progress, according to Wood.

“We can have dreams about universal health care, but that is not as romantic as wanting to colonize the galaxy,” he said. “We can do that in a few hundred years if we apply ourselves.”


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