The Final Mission

Apollo 17 was the eleventh and last manned American mission to the Moon. It was launched on December 7, 1972 by Commander Eugene Cernan, Command Module Pilot Ronald Evans, and Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt. Harrison Schmitt is the only trained geologist to walk on the moon. Apollo 17 is noted for setting quite a few records for the longest manned lunar landing flight, the longest total lunar surface extravehicular activities, the largest lunar sample return, and the longest time in lunar orbit. It remains the most recent manned Moon landing as well as the most recent manned flight beyond lower Earth orbit.

Apollo 17 is remembered favorably for a number of reasons. To the public, the astronauts were known for taking a famous picture of the Earth, which is now known as “The Blue Marble.” In the past moon landing missions, astronauts had only photographed the Western hemisphere. Since the Apollo 17 mission spent two days in Earth’s orbit before leaving for the moon, they were able to get a different perspective. This famous photograph shows the entire continent of Africa and Antarctica. After landing on the surface on December 11th, the astronauts made three excursions along the surface of the Moon that lasted for about 7 hours each. Using a Lunar Rover, the crew collected a record of 110.5 pounds of soil and rock samples and explored a record 21 miles of the Taurus Littrow valley. The Taurus Littrow region, and the landing site for their mission, is a dark mantle between three high massifs, or mountains, which provided a variety of rock samples. In fact, this location was chosen because it could offer rocks that were both older and younger than those obtained on earlier Apollo missions.

Eugene Cernan is the last man to have set foot on the Moon. His famous last words look to a hopeful future return when he said, “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.” The mission came to an end on December 19, 1972 when the crew successfully landed in the South Pacific Ocean.




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