At 12:33am on December 7, 1972, Apollo 17, crewed by Eugene Cernan (Part of Apollo 10 in 1969), Ronald Evans and geologist Harrison Schmitt, took off from Kennedy Space Centre (2 hours 40 minutes past scheduled time), marking the only time an Apollo mission launched at night, as the era of NASA’s lunar missions came to an end, having achieved John F. Kennedy’s 1961 goal of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.
Among the events that would occur during the crew’s 12 days in space:
December 7 also marks the day that Apollo 17 captured a photo of Planet Earth that became known as the Blue Marble, one of the first fully illuminated color images of the Earth, and arguably the most famous of them all.
Schmitt, a professional geologist, became the first and only person without a background in military aviation to walk on the Moon.
The crew performed the sixth and most recent moon landing in human history on December 11, 1972, with Cernan and Schmitt (The 11th and 12th men to walk on the Moon) staying on the lunar surface for a total of 3 days, 2 hours, 59 minutes and 40 seconds, which remains a record, which served as the only thorough exploration of the lunar surface.
Ronald Evans and the five mice that travelled with Apollo 17 spent a record total time of 147 hours, 43 minutes and 37 seconds in lunar orbit, orbiting the moon a grand total of 75 times.
It was the longest crewed lunar landing of any of the Apollo missions, lasting 12 days and 14 hours – For reference, Apollo 11 lasted 8 days.
While collecting some 34kg of geological samples, Cernan and Schmitt performed a rendition of I Was Strolling on the Moon One Day, one of the stranger moments of lunar missions, alongside Alan Shepard playing golf during the Apollo 14 mission in 1971.
Schmitt and Cernan performed 3 moonwalks over a total period of 22 hours, which was a record for any human being until Michael Jackson overtook the pair in 1983.
After Schmitt and Cernan’s 3rd and final moonwalk on December 14, Cernan was the last to enter the lunar module before departure…
Making him the most recent human being to walk on the moon, creating a great coincidence of history as Purdue University served as the alma mater for both the first man to walk on the moon (Neil Armstrong) and the most recent man to walk on the moon, despite the fact that both Armstrong and Cernan have since passed away.
“And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus–Littrow, we leave as we came, and God willing as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17.”
Gene Cernan, December 14, 1972, stating the last words spoken by a human being on the lunar surface.