Final Landing

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Final Landing

APOLLO 17: And there it is Houston, there’s Camelot! Right on target! I see it! 38 degrees. MISSION CONTROL: Challenger, you’re go for landing. APOLLO: 5,000 feet.

50 years ago today, Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt were heading for the Moon. The Apollo 17 astronauts guided their lunar module, Challenger, toward a valley in the highlands — a mountainous region in one of the light-colored areas we see on the lunar disk.

APOLLO: Stand by for touchdown. Stand by!

It was the last of the six lunar landing missions of the Apollo program.

APOLLO: Ten feet. Contact! Okay, Houston, the Challenger has landed! MCC: Roger, Challenger. That’s super. APOLLO: Boy, you bet it is Gordo. Oh, man! Look at that rock out there. Absolutely incredible. Absolutely incredible. The epic moment of my life.

Over the next three days, Cernan and Schmitt made three moonwalks. Using a battery-powered rover, they ventured almost five miles from their lander. And they gathered 250 pounds of samples.

Some of the most exciting samples came from a patch of bright orange dirt, which decades later was found to contain water — one piece of evidence that the Moon is much wetter than anyone had expected during the Apollo days.

Some other samples remained untouched until just a couple of years ago. They’d been sealed to avoid contamination. They were opened up to allow scientists to study them with tools and techniques that didn’t exist when Apollo 17 brought them to Earth — a half-century ago.

More tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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