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Final Steps

Our first foray beyond Earth came to an end 50 years ago today. After three days in the Taurus-Littrow valley, Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt headed to lunar orbit. They’d join crewmate Ron Evans for the long voyage home.

At the time, it was clear that it would be a while before people returned to the Moon. But few expected it to take quite this long.

NASA had planned three more Apollo missions. Each would aim at a challenging landing site with high scientific interest. But they were cancelled, either for budget reasons or to use the hardware for other projects.

Over the following decades, NASA considered many ideas for follow-up missions. None of them ever took off.

Today, though, the space agency says it’s about ready to go back to the Moon with its Artemis program. It says astronauts could land on the Moon as early as 2025. But the program is way behind schedule and over budget. And one NASA review said 2025 isn’t a realistic goal.

Still, it seems likely that people will follow in the footsteps of Cernan, Schmitt, and the 10 other Apollo moonwalkers within the next few years.

Shortly before he stepped off the Moon for the final time, Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan had a few words for those future moonwalkers:

CERNAN: And as we leave the Moon and Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return: with peace and hope for all mankind.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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