Considered one of the 20th century’s great minds, Eugene “Gene” Shoemaker is still celebrated across the word years after his death. Born on April 28, 1928, Shoemaker was known as a geologist. Craters were one of his great passions, thus, revolutionizing our understanding of geology. He applied to be an astronaut in the 1960s but was rejected due to a medical problem. However, he was chosen to lead the Astrogeology Research Program of the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
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According to Atlas Obscura, an online site that aims to inspire wonder and curiosity about the incredible world we all share, Shoemaker later worked on several US space missions, including the Apollo missions to the moon. He taught Apollo astronauts about craters and trained them to collect rock samples. The geologist helped confirm that the famous 570-foot-deep (173-meter) Barringer Crater was made by an asteroid impact and championed the hypothesis that another such impact killed the last non-avian dinosaurs 66 million years ago.
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Shoemaker’s work also aided in the discovery of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 Comet, which struck Jupiter in 1994. According to HowStuffWorks, an American commercial infotainment website, then-president George H.W. Bush awarded him the National Medal of Science in 1992. Before his death, he admitted that the biggest disappointment in his life was “not going to the moon and banging on it with my hammer.”
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Shoemaker died in a car crash while crater-hunting in Australia on July 18, 1997. In honor of his life and contributions to human knowledge, some of his ashes were laid to rest near the moon's south pole. This made him the only person to ever receive a lunar burial. In an interview, Carolyn Porco, a University of Arizona professor and Shoemaker’s colleague in NASA’s Voyager missions, said, “He is the very first human inhabitant of Earth to be laid to rest on another celestial body. That’s very significant because it says we have arrived at our place in the solar system, the solar system is our own and it’s beckoning us.”