1972: The Last Time Humans Set Foot On the Moon

Posted on March 12, 2017 by Dr. Lynda

“I’m quite disappointed that I’m still the last man on the moon.”          – Astronaut Gene Cernan of the Apollo 17 Moonwalks

Image: Astronaut from Apollo 17 driving the lunar rover vehicle
Source: Wikipedia

That’s just one of the observations made by Cernan when he testified to congress in 2011, after the absence of a moon mission for 40 years.

So, where are we going with that concept these days, and before we can answer that, should we take a few minutes to remember where we are coming from?

In today’s Ever Widening Circles article, we point you to an absolutely amazing short film by a thought-leader named Todd Douglas Miller. This is one of those projects that one watches and remembers with goosebumps, or watches to understand what all the fuss is about.

Remember, over 60% of the people on the planet were not even born when we last set foot on the moon!

Image: Apollo 11 lunar lander on the moon
Source: NASA

Here’s the story in a nutshell:

On December 7, 1972, NASA launched Apollo 17. There was a three-man crew–Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmitt–and even though technology has advanced by light years, that became the last time human beings ever went beyond “low earth” orbit.

This film is a masterfully heart-pounding compilation of some of the best and rarest film footage from that mission and the audio gives us a sense of the human drama at played through the 12-day mission.

Image: The first LCD displays on watch facesBefore we settle into this remarkable time in history, let’s be sure we realize how incredible this accomplishment was if you consider the state of “technology” at that time:

  • In 1972 the simplest, pocket calculators cost over $100 and were a revelation for students.
  • And the “Liquid Crystal” numbered faces on wrist watches (like the photo at left) were an astonishing new technology.

And yet we cobbled together the engineering and electronics of the day, well enough to send men to the moon and drive the lunar rover vehicle around like a dune-buggy!

What a fabulous look at one of man’s greatest adventures! Thanks again to the amazing producers of Great Big Story. Their work expands and transforms us all.

As much as we can marvel at the gist of the Apollo missions, I suspect most of us don’t know enough about the details of these spaceflights to truly appreciate the achievement.

So I’ve done some research for us all, and found the insights delightful and in places, jaw-dropping!

Here then are the fascinating “must have” details!

The Apollo Space Missions were a series of manned flights with the goal of expanding space technology and exploring the moon.

All the missions involved using a standard (and constantly improved) rocket called the Saturn V Rocket with the Apollo Spacecraft perched on top, which also improved over time.

The spacecraft itself was comprised of three parts. The service module, the section used for the propulsion and spacecraft support systems. The command module, the portion of the craft with the crew’s quarters and flight control equipment. And the lunar module which took two of the crew to the lunar surface.

Once on the moon, the lunar module provided life support and a home base, and when the mission was over blasted off the lunar surface with just enough power to return to the service and command modules waiting in lunar orbit.

Let’s find out how this endeavor actually worked with a few videos from a wonderful 3D animation creator named Jared Owen. You can check out more of his work on his YouTube channel!

Here a short but terrific explanation of how the initial launch and Earth orbit happened:

I was surprised to learn that NASA accomplished the Apollo missions 1 through 17 in little less than 6 years. And that is made even more remarkable because the Apollo missions had such a tragic start with the loss of the entire crew in a pre-launch fire of Apollo 1 in January of 1967.

Here’s a rundown of the lead up to our last footprints on the moon:

Apollo 1 – Tragic pre-launch fire kills three astronauts, January 1967.

Apollo 2 through 6 – All were unmanned flights designed to test a series of improvements to the rockets. Here’s a photograph of the brilliant people on the ground at the “Mission Control Center”. Take a look at the incredibly simple technology that they used to pull all this off!

Image: Apollo 7 Mission Control Center
Source: NASA Apollo 7 Mission Control Center

Convinced the time had come to put astronauts back in space, the manned flight series began:

Apollo 7 – First manned flight since the Apollo 1 tragedy, tested command and service modules in earth orbit only, October 1968

Here’s another fabulous video to explain the details of getting a spacecraft from earth to the moon and back:

Apollo 8 – Orbited the moon and returned, December 1968

Apollo 9 – Lunar module test, March 1969

Apollo 10 – Orbited the moon and returned, May 1969  This mission encompassed all aspects of an actual crewed lunar landing, except the landing.

Apollo 11 – Landed on the Moon, July 20, 1969

Once we were capable of orbiting the moon, a whole new series of ingenious plans are executed to get us onto the lunar surface and then all the way back to earth:

Apollo 12 – Landed on the Moon at a place called “Ocean of Storms”, November 1969

Apollo 13 – Lunar Flyby and Return, A malfunction forced cancellation of the lunar landing, April 1970 (This is the mission that inspired the famous Tom Hanks movie “Apollo 13”.)

Apollo 14 through 16 – Landed on the moon and explored various locations, January 1971 to April 1972

Apollo 17 – Landed on the moon with the mission to bring back the oldest and youngest rocks we had ever recovered.

Image: Astronaut driving lunar rover
Source: Wikipedia

Well, now you will be the smartest person in the room the next time the subject of spaceflight comes up.

If you can’t get enough of this topic, I found the most remarkable website where you can listen to the conversations between Mission Control and the astronauts, while watching the actual videos being made at the same time.

Check out a website called Apollo17.org and play around with the controls. Choose the blue box labeled “Now: In Progress” on the homepage and then once you get to the Real-Time Experience Page, try scrolling down the right side images to a place where you can see the rover or astronauts walking around, and then the corresponding audio will pop on. It’s a bit of a marvel!

Image: Screen shot from the Apollo17.org webpage
Source: Apollo17.org

This story, like all our articles, proves our thesis here at Ever Widening Circles: It’s still an amazing world.

Let’s careen off into the rest of the day with a spring in our step and another wonder in our hearts and minds!

Stay open, curious and optimistic.

~ Dr. Lynda


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