“As I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come, but we believe not too long into the future, I'd like to just say what I believe history will record: That America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return: with peace and hope for all mankind.”
Those were the last words spoken on the moon by astronaut Gene Cernan, during the Apollo 17 mission, on Dec. 14, 1972.
No one has set foot on the moon since.
As we reach the 50th anniversary of the final moon landing, there is hope for a return “not too long into the future,” as Cernan put it.
NASA’s big gamble:Is new rocket too costly to launch us back to the moon?
With the launch of Artemis I on Nov. 16, the United States is inching its way back to placing humans on the moon. Artemis' Orion spacecraft skirted past the moon Nov. 21, the closest a human-rated craft has been to the moon since Apollo 17's moon landing. Orion is set to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on Sunday, capping off a mission that NASA hopes sets American on a path back to the lunar surface.
FLORIDA TODAY has been spotlighting the 50th anniversary of each successful Apollo moon landing mission since 2019, six in all.
Here is what to know about Apollo 17, which launched 50 years ago Wednesday.
The crew consisted of Gene Cernan, Jack Schmitt and Ronald Evans.
Schmitt was notable because he was initially slated to fly on Apollo 18, but after the mission was canceled, the community of lunar geologists pressured NASA to reassign Schmitt to a remaining flight arguing the importance of landing a geologist on the Moon. He bumped Joe Engle from the mission. Engle later flew to space on two shuttle missions.
Here's more about the three crewmembers:
Eugene “Gene” Cernan. (March 14, 1934-Jan. 16, 2017) Cernan, the mission’s commander, traveled into space three times and to the Moon twice: as pilot of Gemini 9A in June 1966, as lunar module pilot of Apollo 10 in May 1969, and as commander of Apollo 17 in December 1972, the final Apollo lunar landing.
Harrison Hagan "Jack" Schmitt. (Born July 3, 1935–) Schmitt, the lunar module pilot, is the most recent living person — and only person without a background in military aviation — to have walked on the Moon. He received a B.S. degree in geology from the California Institute of Technology in 1957 and then spent a year studying geology at the University of Oslo in Norway, as a Fulbright Scholar. He received a Ph.D. in geology from Harvard University in 1964.
Ronald Evans. (Nov. 10, 1933-April 7, 1990). Evans, the Command Module Pilot, along with five mice, orbited the Moon a record 75 times as his two crewmates descended to and explored the lunar surface. He was a Vietnam War fighter pilot.
The primary objectives included:
⋅ Collecting samples from an area a substantial distance from Mare Imbrium, a vast lava plain on the Moon that is one of the larger craters in the Solar System. It was first visited by the Apollo 15 crew. NASA wanted samples from what is believed to have been young volcanic activity (i.e., less than three billion years). They also wanted samples far from areas traversed by Apollo 15 and Apollo 16.
⋅ Placing several science experiments, perhaps the most encompassing being the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP), a suite of nuclear-powered experiments that were flown on each landing mission after Apollo 11.
For Apollo 17, the ALSEP experiments were a Heat Flow Experiment (HFE) to measure the rate of heat flow from the interior of the Moon; a Lunar Surface Gravimeter (LSG) to measure alterations in the lunar gravity field at the site; a Lunar Atmospheric Composition Experiment (LACE) to investigate what the lunar atmosphere is made up of; a Lunar Seismic Profiling Experiment (LSPE) to detect nearby seismic activity and a Lunar Ejecta and Meteorites Experiment (LEME), to measure the velocity and energy of dust particles.
The landing site
Taurus–Littrow was chosen as the landing spot. Apollo 15 Command Module Pilot Al Worden observed features he described as likely volcanic in nature when flying over it.
At Taurus–Littrow, it was believed the crew would be able to obtain samples of old highland material from the remnants of a landslide event that occurred on the south wall of the valley and the possibility of relatively young, explosive volcanic activity in the area.
Overnight launch and a historic picture
Apollo 17 launched on Dec. 7 at 12:33 a.m., pushing into a new day after being scheduled for late on Dec. 6. It was the only launch-pad delay in the Apollo program caused by a hardware problem, one that was solved in less than three hours. It was also the only Apollo mission launched at night.
Approximately 500,000 people watched the launch in the vicinity of Kennedy Space Center, despite the early-morning hour. The launch was visible as far away as 500 miles with observers in Miami reporting a "red streak" crossing the northern sky, according to NASA.
As the rocket headed toward the moon, it recorded a photo of Earth known as the “Blue Marble” taken from a distance of about 18,000 miles away. NASA says it has become one of the most reproduced images in history.
The furthest drive on the moon
Cernan and Schmitt headed toward the moon’s surface in the lunar lander named “Challenger” while Evans stayed in the command service module “America.”
Challenger touched down on the lunar surface at 2:55 p.m. EST on Dec. 11.
Cernan stepped onto the moon’s surface first, saying, "I'm on the footpad. And, Houston, as I step off at the surface at Taurus–Littrow, we'd like to dedicate the first step of Apollo 17 to all those who made it possible."
Schmitt then stepped out to become the 12th person, and most recent, to step onto the moon after a successful landing.
During their approximately 75-hour stay on the lunar surface, Cernan and Schmitt performed three moonwalks. The astronauts deployed the lunar roving vehicle and then set up the ALSEP. They drove the rover to nine planned geological-survey stations to collect samples and make observations.
During the second moonwalk, the duo drove the rover 4.7 miles away from the lander, the furthest distance any spacefarers have ever traveled away from the safety of a pressurizable spacecraft while on a planetary body, and also during an EVA of any type.
During the third moon walk, a 17.7-pound rock was collected. It was the largest rock brought back by Apollo 17. A small piece of it is on exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Wahsington D.C., one of the few rocks from the Moon that the public may touch.
MacGyver on the moon
After offloading the lunar rover, Cernan caught his hammer under the right-rear fender extension, accidentally breaking it off.
Cernan and Schmitt made a short-lived fix using duct tape, attaching a paper map to the damaged fender. Lunar dust stuck to the tape's surface, however, preventing it from adhering properly.
Overnight, prior to the second moon walk, the flight controllers devised a procedure communicated by John Young: taping together four stiff paper maps to form a "replacement fender extension" and then clamping it onto the fender.
The astronauts carried out the new fix which did its job without failing until near the end of the third excursion.
Evans a busy man
Evans spent approximately 148 total hours in lunar orbit, including solo time and time spent together with Cernan and Schmitt, which is more time than any other individual has spent orbiting the Moon.
The flight plan kept Evans busy, making him so tired he overslept one morning by an hour, despite efforts of Mission Control to awaken him.
Deep space walk on the way home
After saying his final words on the moon, Cernan and Schmitt closed up Challenger for the ascent back to the America module.
The duo successfully lifted off from the lunar surface on Dec. 14, 1972, at 5:54 p.m. EST. The return to lunar orbit took just over seven minutes. They docked with Evans and the lunar orbiter about two hours later.
During the return to Earth, Evans performed a 65-minute EVA to retrieve film cassettes from the service module's SIM bay, with assistance from Schmitt, who remained at the command module's hatch.
At approximately 184,000 miles from Earth, it was the third "deep space" space walk in history, performed at great distance from any planetary body. As of 2022, it remains one of only three such space walks, and it was the final one of the Apollo program.
The Apollo 17 spacecraft reentered Earth's atmosphere and splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean at 2:25 p.m. EST on Dec. 19, 1972. The crew members were recovered by the USS Ticonderoga.
Apollo 17 legacy
None of the Apollo 17 astronauts flew in space again.
The Command Module America is currently on display at Space Center Houston at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Cernan's Apollo 17 spacesuit is in the collection of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. Schmitt's and Evans’ spacesuits are in storage at the Smithsonian's Paul E. Garber Facility.
Apollo’s final stats
The Apollo program ended with a total cost of $25.8 billion. When adjusted for inflation this figure is closer to $257 billion in 2022 dollars, according to planetary.org.
The Laser Ranging experiment set up by the Apollo 11 astronauts is still collecting data on the moon to this day.
NASA estimates that a total of 400,000 men and women across the United States were involved in the Apollo program.
Thirty-three men flew 11 Apollo missions. Of these, 27 men reached the Moon, 24 orbited the Moon – and 12 walked on the surface. A total of 60 miles were driven on the moon by lunar rovers.
Contact Tim Walters at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: 50 years ago Apollo 17 became the last mission to land humans on moon