Photo of Eugene M. Shoemaker

Eugene M. Shoemaker

  • National Medal of Science
  • Physical Sciences

For his pioneering research and inspiring leadership in the geological exploration of the solar system; for his entrepreneurial creation and direction of the Branch of Astrogeology of the U.S. Geological Survey; and for his research on earth-approaching asteroids and comets and their potential impact effects.

Eugene M. Shoemaker’s interest in rocks began at the Buffalo Museum of Science, which offered a science education program for primary grade students. Shoemaker quickly became an avid collector of minerals, and taught himself about Devonian fossils in western New York State. At the age of 20, he was hired by the U.S. Geological Survey, where he spent much of his career studying geology.

From his lifelong work, whole new fields of geology evolved, including pioneering the field of astrogeology- studying the geology of other planets, moons, asteroids, comets and meteorites. Shoemaker created the astrogeology program at the USGS, and started an alliance between NASA and the USGS in the study of astrogeology that continues today.

Some of Shoemaker’s most notable accomplishments included developing the concepts of dating planetary surfaces based on the size distributions and numbers of impact craters, training astronauts, starting a sky survey for Earth-orbit-crossing asteroids, and pioneering the idea that sudden catastrophic changes can occur from meteorite impacts.

By Jen Santisi