StoryCorps: A Fitting Tribute For A Stargazing Love: One Last Trip To The Moon Gene and Carolyn Shoemaker made a life together gazing at the stars. So when Gene died, Carolyn could think of no better resting place for his ashes than one of his favorite places — the moon itself.
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A Fitting Tribute For A Stargazing Love: A Trip To The Moon

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A Fitting Tribute For A Stargazing Love: A Trip To The Moon

A Fitting Tribute For A Stargazing Love: A Trip To The Moon

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It is time for StoryCorps now. After a five-year, 1.7 billion-mile journey, NASA's Juno spacecraft reached Jupiter this week. So today we'll hear about a couple who made a life together gazing into space. Gene Shoemaker was a renowned astrogeologist who studied the geology of planets, asteroids and other celestial bodies. His wife Carolyn took up astronomy later in life and became known as Mrs. Comet for all the comets she discovered. They worked side by side for 17 years until Mr. Shoemaker died in 1997 and got a burial that was out of this world. He's the only person whose final resting place is the moon. At StoryCorps, Carolyn told their son-in-law Phred, how her husband became the man in the moon.

CAROLYN SHOEMAKER: When I was 50 years old, and my kids were grown, Gene suggested, well, maybe I would like to try my hand at astronomy a little bit. I'd never stayed awake a whole night in my life (laughter). The idea of going (laughter) to the telescope seemed kind of impossible. But I found 32 comets. And then Gene and I were on a field trip in Australia. We were rounding a curve, came face to face with another vehicle. It was immediate impact. I couldn't move, and I kept thinking, well, Gene will come around in a minute like he always does, and he'll open the door and get me out of here. But he didn't come. Gene and I had never talked about what should happen to us when we die. But I was still in the hospital, and here was a phone call from Carolyn Porco.

PHRED SALAZAR: One of dad's students.

SHOEMAKER: Yes, Carolyn told me that the spacecraft Lunar Prospector was about to go to the moon. She hated to bring it up too abruptly, but would I consider having Gene's ashes go in a capsule on the rocket? It was an easy decision, and he always wanted to be on the moon. And so I knew that Gene would be just elated if he could go to the moon at last. I miss him every day. But to this day, you know, I look up at the moon and I can imagine him up there running around, looking at craters. Just knowing his joy in it...

SALAZAR: ...Yeah...

SHOEMAKER: ...Gave me, still does, a lot of joy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: Dr. Carolyn Shoemaker and her son-in-law Phred Salazar in Flagstaff, Ariz. Their conversation will be archived in the Library of Congress.

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