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The last men on the moon

Lift- off
This liftoff on December 7. 1972, was the beginning of the end for the Apollo space program   

1972 Apollo mission marks 25-year anniversary

December 7, 1997
Web posted at: 10:03 a.m. EST (1503 GMT)

MIAMI (CNN) -- The curtain was coming down on the Apollo space program at the time, and the final act was a spectacular one. When Apollo 17 lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on December 7, 1972, few at the time imagined that it would be the last manned lunar mission to this day.

The three-man Apollo team blasted off on a Saturn V rocket for a mission that would last 12 days, 13 hours and 52 minutes. After coasting in space for three days, Apollo 17 arrived at the Earth's pock-marked neighbor. Astronaut Ronald E. Evans stayed behind in Apollo's command capsule, while Harrison H. "Jack" Schmitt and Eugene A. Cernan descended to the lunar surface.

R E L A T E D   S I T E:

Apollo 17 Lunar Surface Journal

Apollo 17 mission overview
  • Rocket: Saturn V
  • Launch date: December 7, 1972
  • Crew: Eugene A. Cernan, Ronald E. Evans, Harrison H. "Jack" Schmitt
  • Duration: 12 days, 13 hours, 52 minutes
  • Landing site: Taurus-Littrow, highlands and valley area
  • The landing site, known as the valley of Taurus-Littrow, was considered geologist's paradise. Schmitt, who had joined NASA in 1965 as part of a first group of scientist-astronauts, was the first geologist on the moon. He and Cernan spent more time on the lunar surface than any other crew.

    Devices in the scientific research program included a type of cosmic ray detector, an instrument for determining the composition of the extremely thin lunar atmosphere and a device for detecting meteorites and ejecta from local impacts.

    Geological analysis of the moon surface was a key goal of the mission, and after having spent more than 22 hours outside the lunar lander vehicle, the crew had gathered 250 pounds of material for the return trip to Earth.

    Reality is like a dream

    "America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow," Cernan said before leaving the lunar surface.   

    Cernan, reminiscing about the mission, recalled that there was something unreal about being on the moon.

    "I best describe having been there as being in a place where reality is almost like a dream. Even today, the reality of having called the moon my home, is almost like a dream. I've been there. I know I've been there. I can take myself back instantaneously to that valley," he said.

    It was Cernan who delivered a final message before leaving the surface: "I believe history will record that America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow."

    On December 14, Cernan and Schmitt returned to the command module circling above them. Neither imagined they eventually would be known as the last men on the moon.

    Correspondent John Zarrella contributed to this report.


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