It was 39 years this past Dec 7th, since the final manned lunar landing took place. Apollo 17 was the eleventh and final manned mission in the American Apollo space program. And it was spectacular site as it was a night launch. Celebrities were there to watch this launch. And a first , an auto repair was performed on the Moon and a mystery was made that still has not been solved to this day.
Considered one of the most memorable Apollo launches, the Apollo 17 blasted off from Launch Pad 39 at Kennedy Space Center on December 7, 1972. The crew was made up by Command Module Pilot Ronald E. Evans, a civilian geologist Jack Schmitt and the Spacecraft Commander Eugene Cernan. They were launched into space from Cape Canaveral by a Saturn V Rocket.
As usual the CBS Newscaster Walter Cronkite was reporting live but he made one his most embarrassing gaffes of his career when he said that the night launch would “light up the sky like a firecracker. (There was a brief pause.) Uh, excuse me, Wally,” Cronkite continued to guest commentatorr and former Astronaut Wally Schirra, “I should say, perhaps, like a roman candle.”
Gathered at the launch viewing were hundreds of VIP’s and celebrities, the local paper reported
that celebrities were dime a dozen. Pictures in the press showed celebrities Eva Gabor pointing to the fiery liftoff and Frank Sinatra starry eyed and Jonathan Winter puffing on a stogey, all captioned with “everyone was bedazzled.”
There was enough confusion to go around. Assigned seating in the bleaches was not observed by some, as some people got it wrong. Former Florida Gov. Kirk got kicked out of a VIP stand for sitting in a taken seat, he had to leave as he didn’t have a pass. Stumbling around the crowds looking confused was an Asian military man, his uniform draped with braiding, his shoulder festooned with stars, he wandered around the bleachers lost, unable to communicate. An elderly woman, not a big shot, steered the general back to his seat. But he Saturn rocket headed off on a journey to the moon.
The lunar module made a soft landing in the Taurus-Littrow region of the moon. The headlines reported, “Landing Smoother Than Any” The newspaper dated December 12, 1972 reported astronaut Cernan as saying, ‘It is Beautiful Out Here’. During the mission a mishap caused the fender on the Moon Rover to break and thus driving was difficult with lunar dust flying up at the moon rover riders. “I got to make a fender tonight,” Astronaut Gene Cernan said. “Man I hate this dust.” Radio communications with Houston Control resulted in a solution where a map was folded in such a way and duck taped to make a temporary fender, and it worked.
Traveling along the moon surface an interesting discovery was made, orange soil in a crater. Astronaut Jack Schmitt hesitantly suggested the strange appearing soil might have originated from a volcanic type vent, but added “But I hate to even suggest it.” After all the experiments had been performed it was time to return to Earth. A short ceremony was held to end this final Apollo mission to the Moon. Astronauts Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt unveiled a plaque commemorating all six Apollo landings on the moon and acknowledging all the ground crews that made this scientific achievement possible.
“This valley of history has seen mankind completes his first evolutionary steps into the universe,” geologist Schmitt said, “leaving the planet earth and going forth into the universe. Cernan recognized the support of the ground crews and workers. He concluded his farewell, “God willing, We’ll Return”.
A letter from NASA director Kurt H. Debus on December 19, 1972 congratulated everyone. ‘I think it was entirely appropriate as Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt positioned the American Flag on the moon that it was dedicated to all those people who made the Apollo lunar landings possible. It was quite a tribute and well deserved one for all of you. Sincerely, Kurt H.Debus.
Discover more Space History this day and visit a Space Themed Geocache at
the History of Cape Canaveral website at
US Space Walk of Fame Museum in Titusville
FLORIDA TODAY December 1972
Photo credit: NASA Archive