December 14th

[edit] Apollo 17

On this day in 1972, the following "last words" were spoken:

170:41:00 Bob, this is Gene, and I'm on the surface; and, as I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come - but we believe not too long into the future - I'd like to just (say) what I believe history will record. That America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. 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."

Two Apollo 17 astronauts, Commander Gene Cernan and Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Hagen Schmitt, were talking on the moon as they prepared to leave. These astronauts were last two humans ever on the moon -- in the last 34 years we haven't even come close. Apollo 17 was the 6th mission to land on the there.

You can read an annotated transcript of the entire mission, with photos and movies, online. It's really very interesting.

What kind of technology did the astronauts take to the moon on this last mission? They had had a moon rover, which they drove for over 21 miles. They took many instruments, including a gravimeter which Cernan threw to see how far it would go (unaware they weren't done with it -- see timestamp: 169:51:20 at the link above). The lander kept them alive on the moon for 3 days, while the Command Module Pilot, Ronald Evans, orbited above.

What didn't they have? The main thing we'd notice today is the lack of computers. That means no PC's, no digital cameras, really nothing with a microprocessor in it. The computers used in the Apollo missions for navigation were incredibly primitive -- the Apollo missions were the first to use integrated circuits.

The astronauts returned safely to earth. Apollo 18 was canceled, and there have been no more manned landings onto the moon since.

© 2006, Jorge Monasterio

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