Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan test drives his Lunar Roving Vehicle before putting it to work during the final manned Moon mission in December 1972. Cernan and crewmate Harrison Schmitt, the only geologist ever to walk on the Moon, gathered more than 200 pounds of rocks and soil, while the third crewmember, Ron Evans, conducted observations from lunar orbit. Cernan took the final steps on the Moon on December 14, bringing an era of lunar exploration to an end. [NASA]
APOLLO 17: Stand by for touchdown. Stand by.
This is an auspicious week in the history of space exploration. 50 years ago, an American spacecraft staged the first successful encounter with another planet — a brief passage by Venus. And just 10 years later, the final crew of the Apollo program landed on the Moon.
APOLLO 17: Okay, Houston, the Challenger has landed! We is here! Man is we here!
Astronauts Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt landed on December 11th, 1972, in a valley in the lunar highlands. The site gave them a chance to sample two different types of terrain — the surrounding mountains of the highlands, and a small plain of relatively young volcanic rock on the valley floor.
Schmitt was the first and only geologist to visit the Moon. During three moonwalks, he and Cernan picked up more than 240 pounds of rocks and soil.
One of the highlights was a patch of bright orange soil, which scientists are still studying today. A recent analysis found that it contains a lot of water, showing that the Moon is much wetter than anyone had expected just a few years ago.
And from lunar orbit, the third Apollo 17 astronaut, Ron Evans, operated cameras and other instruments that mapped a large swath of the surface. Cernan and Schmitt rejoined Evans after three days on the Moon, and the crew returned to Earth on December 19th.
At the time, most expected astronauts to return to the Moon within a few years, but it hasn’t worked out that way. More about the long break tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012
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