Eugene Cernan

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December 7th, 1972 - Apollo 17 launches the final manned flight to the Lunar surface with Astronauts Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans, and Harrison Schmitt aboard. 

Apollo 17 lifted off at 12:31 am, marking the first nighttime manned spaceflight for the United States and the final manned flight of the Saturn V. Geologist Harrison Schmitt would also be the first and only scientist to visit the moon. 

The three-day lunar exploration was largely scientific, looking for signs of recent volcanic activity and lunar sampling. Apollo 17 also sported the third Lunar Roving Vehicle to be used. 

After mission objectives were completed, and Eugene Cernan returned to the Lunar Module after their three-day stay on the moon, he shared his thoughts on the final planned moon mission’s completion:

“Bob, this is Gene, and I’m on the surface; and, 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. “Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17.”

#OTD 44 years ago, we remember and salute Commander Eugene A. Cernan, Command Module Pilot Ronald E. Evans and Lunar Module Pilot Harrison P. Schmitt of #Apollo17, the last astronauts on the Moon. 

With the first scientist to visit and work on the lunar surface, the primary scientific objectives included “geological surveying and sampling of materials and surface features in a preselected area of the Taurus-Littrow region; deploying and activating surface experiments; and conducting in-flight experiments and photographic tasks during lunar orbit and transearth coast.”

Recommended: ‘The Real Story Of Apollo 17…And Why We Never Went Back To The Moon’  (@io9dotcom)

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Last Men on the Moon

On December 19 1972—41 years ago today—Apollo 17 splashed back down on Earth in the South Pacific ocean. It was the last of six lunar landings during the Apollo program, and its return to Earth marked the program’s end. Astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent three days exploring the Taurus-Littrow lunar valley and taking samples of moon rock and soil–Schmitt was the first geologist and professional scientist on a NASA mission, and he was also the twelfth and final man to walk on the moon. After their lunar module, the Challenger, lifted off the surface of the moon, a statement from the White House was radioed to the astronauts: "We are conscious not of what we leave behind, but of what lies before us. This may be the last time in this century that men will walk on the moon, but space exploration will continue, the benefits of space exploration will continue, and there will be new dreams to pursue, based upon what we have learned.“ No human has set foot on another celestial body for 41 years.

(Image Credit: 1, 2)

Earth as seen by astronauts Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmidt from Apollo 17.

The Apollo 17 mission, which took place December 7-19, 1972, was the last of the missions to the Moon carried out in the late 1960s and early 1970s by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Astronauts Eugene A. Cernan, Ronald B. Evans, and Harrison H. Schmitt undertook the mission, which lasted 12 days, 13 hours, and 52 minutes and included a Lunar surface stay of 75 hours. The Lunar landing site was the highlands and valley area of Taurus-Littrow (20º 16’ north latitude, 30º 77’ east longitude). The mission gathered 110.4 kilograms of Lunar material and set up NASA’s sixth automated research station. This photograph shows the Earth as it would have appeared to the astronauts on their journey home.

Earth, as seen by astronauts Eugen Cernan, Ronald Evans, and Harrison Schmidt from Apollo 17.

On December 19, 1972 the astronauts of Apollo 17 landed safely in the Pacific.  It was the last of the Apollo lunar manned missions.

During the mission, the astronauts collected a lunar sample which Cernan described as, “a rock composed of many fragments, of many sizes, and many shapes, probably from all parts of the Moon, perhaps billions of years old.”

Following Apollo 17’s return to Earth, President Nixon asked that fragments of the rock be sent as gifts to other nations and each U.S. state.  Almost 300 “Goodwill Moon Rocks” were distributed.  Many of these have gone missing and efforts continue to locate the lost Goodwill Moon Rocks. 

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The Last Man on the Moon: Great 30 minute interview with Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan