Apollo 17: 40th Anniversary of the Last Lunar Mission

(WHNT) – Forty years ago today, astronauts aboard Apollo 17 took their first steps on the moon. On the night of December 7th, 1972 Apollo 17 was launched into space from the Kennedy Space Center aboard a Saturn V Rocket, this was the first night launch the program had performed. Below is an image from NASA of the launch that occurred just after midnight, on December 7th, 1972.

Image: NASA

Image: NASA

Late on December 10th, the Apollo 17 successfully landed on the moon.  The three astronaut crew included commander Gene Cernan, Ronald Evans and the first and only scientist-astronaut to land on the moon Harrison Schmitt. On Dec. 11, 1972, astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt descended in the Lunar Module “Challenger” to explore the moon. Astronaut Ronald Evans was the command module pilot and remained with the Command and Service Modules. Below is an image courtesy of NASA of commander Eugene Cernan on the Lunar Rover on December 11th, 1972, fellow astronaut Harrison Schmitt took the image.

Image Credit: NASA

Image Credit: NASA

During their three expeditions on the lunar surface, they collected 243 pounds of lunar rock to analyze.  Since astronaut Harrison Schmitt was a geologist, he go to spend around 22 hours, examining the landscape. The crew landed in the Taurus-Littrow valley, a deep crater, deeper than the Grand Canyon.

I got the honor and privilege to talk with the Honorable Harrison Schmitt while he is in Huntsville for an event tonight at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the last lunar mission. He described the mountains on either side of Taurus-Littrow valley where they landed on the moon as being 6,000-7,000 ft high and the landscape as being “beautiful.”  When asked on what it was like being in space, he said it was hard to get used to the black sky and compared walking on the moon to walking on a giant trampoline,  “1/6 gravity is a very delightful experience”. He also mentioned that sleeping was very comfortable as well, and that you don’t toss and turn.

Harrison Schmitt also talked about the importance to continue lunar missions, not only for more moon exploration, but if we want to land man on Mars. He stated that since Mars is so much farther from Earth and because of the communication delay, if astronauts landed on the giant red planet, they would be operating independently of Earth.  Which is something that NASA has not done much of before and Dr. Schmitt says the moon would be a good place to learn how to do that.

Dr. Schmitt stated “By going to the moon we not only train additional generations of young men and women how to operate in deep space, but we can use the moon, only three days away, as a way to learn how to operate on mars”

He believes returning to the moon is the fastest way to get to Mars. With recent images that Mars Rover ‘Curiosity’ has sent back to Earth, “curiosity” is definitely growing to learn more about and set foot on the giant red planet.

One of the most memorable moments of the mission was after Apollo 17 had just entered space and the full disk of Earth was visible.  Images of Earth’s full disk had been taken before on previous missions, but the view the astronauts aboard Apollo 17 had was unique, it was the first image of Earth that was fully illuminated by the sun. This famous picture became known as the original “blue marble” picture of Earth’s full disk.

Image Credit: NASA

Image Credit: NASA

They are issuing a “Call to Action to Return to the Moon” tonight at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center….we’ll see what the future holds!

Jennifer Watson

Twitter: @JWatson_Wx

Facebook: Jennifer Watson WHNT


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