Apollo 17 (December 7–19, 1972) was the final mission of NASA's Apollo program; it remains the most recent time humans have travelled beyond low Earth orbit. Its crew consisted of Commander Eugene Cernan, Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt, and Command Module Pilot Ronald Evans, and it carried a biological experiment containing five mice.
|Mission type||Crewed lunar landing (J)|
|Mission duration||12 days, 13 hours, 51 minutes, 59 seconds|
|Launch mass||48,607 kilograms (107,161 lb)|
|Landing mass||5,500 kilograms (12,120 lb)|
|EVAs||1 in cislunar space|
Plus 3 on the lunar surface
|EVA duration||1 hour, 5 minutes, 44 seconds|
Spacewalk to retrieve film cassettes
|Start of mission|
|Launch date||December 7, 1972, 05:33:00 UTC|
|Rocket||Saturn V SA-512|
|Launch site||Kennedy LC-39A|
|End of mission|
|Recovered by||USS Ticonderoga|
|Landing date||December 19, 1972, 19:24:59 UTC|
|Landing site||South Pacific Ocean|
|Periselene altitude||26.9 kilometers (14.5 nmi)|
|Aposelene altitude||109.3 kilometers (59.0 nmi)|
|Epoch||December 11, 4:04 UTC|
|Spacecraft component||Command and service module|
|Orbital insertion||December 10, 1972, 19:47:22 UTC|
|Orbital departure||December 16, 1972, 23:35:09 UTC|
|Spacecraft component||Lunar module|
|Landing date||December 11, 1972, 19:54:57 UTC|
|Return launch||December 14, 1972, 22:54:37 UTC|
|Landing site||20.1908°N 30.7717°E|
|Sample mass||110.52 kilograms (243.7 lb)|
|Distance covered||35.74 kilometers (22.21 mi)|
|Docking with LM|
|Docking date||December 7, 1972, 09:30:10 UTC|
|Undocking date||December 11, 1972, 17:20:56 UTC|
|Docking with LM Ascent Stage|
|Docking date||December 15, 1972, 01:10:15 UTC|
|Undocking date||December 15, 1972, 04:51:31 UTC|
Left to right: Schmitt, Cernan (seated), Evans
Launched at 12:33 a.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST) on December 7, 1972, Apollo 17 was a "J-type mission" that included three days on the lunar surface, extended scientific capability, and the use of the third Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV).
Cernan and Schmitt landed in the Taurus–Littrow valley and completed three moonwalks, taking lunar samples and deploying scientific instruments. The landing site had been chosen to further the mission's main goals: to sample lunar highland material older than Mare Imbrium, and to investigate the possibility of relatively recent volcanic activity. Evans remained in lunar orbit in the command and service module (CSM), taking scientific measurements and photographs.
Apollo 17 was the first mission to have no one on board who had been a test pilot; X-15 test pilot Joe Engle lost the lunar module pilot assignment to Schmitt, a geologist. The mission included the first night launch of a U.S. human spaceflight and the final crewed launch of a Saturn V rocket. It was also the final use of Apollo hardware for its original purpose (extra Apollo spacecraft were later used in the Skylab and Apollo–Soyuz programs).
The mission broke several crewed spaceflight records: the longest Moon landing, longest total extravehicular activities (moonwalks), largest lunar sample, longest time in lunar orbit, and, at 75, most lunar orbits.
|Commander||Eugene A. Cernan|
Third and last spaceflight
|Command Module Pilot||Ronald E. Evans|
|Lunar Module Pilot||Harrison H. Schmitt|
In 1969, NASA announced that the backup crew of Apollo 14, slated to fly in 1971, would be Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans, and former X-15 pilot Joe Engle (whose 16 flights in the X-15 had thrice taken him past the 50 mi (80 km) border of space). Because the Apollo program generally slated a backup crew to fly as prime crew three missions later, Cernan, Evans, and Engle were in line to be prime crew of Apollo 17. Meanwhile, Harrison Schmitt—a professional geologist—was assigned to the backup crew of Apollo 15 and slated to fly as Lunar Module Pilot on Apollo 18.
However, Apollo 18 was cancelled in September 1970. The scientific community subsequently pressed NASA to find a way to assign a geologist—and not just a pilot with geology training—to an Apollo landing. So NASA assigned Schmitt as the Lunar Module Pilot of Apollo 17, bumping astronaut Curt Michel, who had a Ph.D in physics.
That opened the question of who would fill the other two Apollo 17 slots: the rest of the Apollo 15 backup crew (Dick Gordon and Vance Brand) or the Apollo 14 backup crew (minus Engle)? NASA Director of Flight Crew Operations Deke Slayton ultimately chose Cernan and Evans.
|Command Module Pilot||Alfred Worden|
|Lunar Module Pilot||James Irwin|
|This had been the Apollo 15 prime crew.|
|Command Module Pilot||Stuart Roosa|
|Lunar Module Pilot||Charles Duke|
The Apollo 15 prime crew received the backup assignment since this was to be the last lunar mission and the backup crew would not rotate to another mission. However, when the Apollo 15 postage stamp incident became public in early 1972 the crew was reprimanded by NASA and the United States Air Force (they were active duty officers). Director of Flight Crew Operations Deke Slayton removed them from flight status and replaced them with Young and Duke from the Apollo 16 prime crew and Roosa from the Apollo 14 prime and Apollo 16 backup crews.
The insignia's most prominent feature is an image of the Greek sun god Apollo backdropped by a rendering of an American eagle, the red bars on the eagle mirroring those on the flag of the United States. Three white stars above the red bars represent the three crewmen of the mission. The background includes the Moon, the planet Saturn, and a galaxy or nebula. The wing of the eagle partially overlays the Moon, suggesting man's established presence there. The gaze of Apollo and the direction of the eagle's motion embody man's intention to explore further destinations in space.
The patch includes, along with the colors of the U.S. flag (red, white, and blue), the color gold, representative of a "golden age" of spaceflight that was to begin with Apollo 17. The image of Apollo in the mission insignia is a rendering of the Apollo Belvedere sculpture. The insignia was designed by Robert McCall, with input from the crew.
Planning and training
Like Apollo 15 and Apollo 16, Apollo 17 was slated to be a "J-mission", an Apollo mission type that featured lunar surface stays of three days, higher scientific capability, and the usage of the Lunar Roving Vehicle. Since Apollo 17 was to be the final lunar landing of the Apollo program, high-priority landing sites that had not been visited previously were given consideration for potential exploration. A landing in the crater Copernicus was considered, but was ultimately rejected because Apollo 12 had already obtained samples from that impact, and three other Apollo expeditions had already visited the vicinity of Mare Imbrium. A landing in the lunar highlands near the crater Tycho was also considered, but was rejected because of the rough terrain found there and a landing on the lunar far side in the crater Tsiolkovskiy was rejected due to technical considerations and the operational costs of maintaining communication during surface operations. A landing in a region southwest of Mare Crisium was also considered, but rejected on the grounds that a Soviet spacecraft could easily access the site; Luna 21 eventually did so shortly after the Apollo 17 site selection was made.
After the elimination of several sites, three sites made the final consideration for Apollo 17: Alphonsus crater, Gassendi crater, and the Taurus-Littrow valley. In making the final landing site decision, mission planners took into consideration the primary objectives for Apollo 17: obtaining old highlands material from a substantial distance from Mare Imbrium, sampling material from young volcanic activity (i.e., less than three billion years), and having minimal ground overlap with the orbital ground tracks of Apollo 15 and Apollo 16 to maximize the amount of new data obtained.
The Taurus-Littrow site was selected with the prediction that the crew would be able to obtain samples of old highland material from the remnants of a landslide event that occurred on the south wall of the valley and the possibility of relatively young, explosive volcanic activity in the area. Although the valley is similar to the landing site of Apollo 15 in that it is on the border of a lunar mare, the advantages of Taurus-Littrow were believed to outweigh the drawbacks, thus leading to its selection as the Apollo 17 landing site.
As with previous lunar landings, the Apollo 17 astronauts underwent an extensive training program that included training to collect samples on the surface, usage of the spacesuits, navigation in the Lunar Roving Vehicle, field geology training, survival training, splashdown and recovery training, and equipment training.
Launch and outbound trip
Apollo 17 was the last crewed Saturn V launch and the only night launch. The launch was delayed by two hours and forty minutes due to an automatic cutoff in the launch sequencer at the T-30 second mark in the countdown. The issue was quickly determined to be a minor technical error. The clock was reset and held at the T-22 minute mark while technicians worked around the malfunction in order to continue with the launch. This pause was the only launch delay in the Apollo program caused by this type of hardware failure. The countdown then resumed, and the liftoff occurred at 12:33 am EST.
Approximately 500,000 people were estimated to have observed the launch in the immediate vicinity of Kennedy Space Center, despite the early morning hour. The launch was visible as far away as 800 km (500 mi); observers in Miami, Florida, saw a "red streak" crossing the northern sky.
At approximately 2:47 pm EST on December 10, the service propulsion system engine on the CSM ignited to slow down the CSM/LM stack into lunar orbit. Following orbit insertion and orbital stabilization, the crew began preparations for landing in the Taurus-Littrow valley.
After separating from the CSM, the LM Challenger and its crew of two, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt, adjusted their orbit and began preparations for the descent to Taurus-Littrow. While Cernan and Schmitt prepared for landing, Command Module Pilot Ron Evans remained in orbit to take observations, perform experiments and await the return of his crew-mates a few days later.
Soon after completing their preparations for landing, Cernan and Schmitt began their descent to the Taurus-Littrow valley on the lunar surface. Several minutes after the descent phase was initiated, the LM pitched over, giving the crew their first look at the landing site during the descent phase and allowing Cernan to guide the spacecraft to a desirable landing target while Schmitt provided data from the flight computer essential for landing. The LM touched down on the lunar surface at 2:55 pm EST on December 11. Shortly thereafter, the two astronauts began re-configuring the LM for their stay on the surface and began preparations for the first moonwalk of the mission, or EVA-1.
Over three moonwalks (EVAs), Cernan and Schmitt deployed the LRV, the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) and seismic explosive charges. They parked the LRV at nine planned geological survey stations to collect samples and make observations. Additionally, twelve short sampling stops were made at Schmitt's discretion while riding the LRV, during which the astronauts rapidly collected lunar material without dismounting.
The first lunar excursion began four hours after landing, at 6:54 p.m. EST on December 11. The first task was to offload the rover and other equipment from the LM. While working near the rover, Cernan caught his hammer under the right-rear fender extension, accidentally breaking it off. A similar incident occurred on Apollo 16 as John Young maneuvered around the rover. Although this was not a mission-critical issue, the loss of the part caused Cernan and Schmitt to be covered with dust thrown up when the rover was in motion. The crew attempted a short-lived fix using duct tape, attaching a map to the damaged fender. However lunar dust stuck to the tape's surface, preventing it from adhering properly. The crew deployed the ALSEP just west of the landing site. This task done, they departed for the first geological survey station: Steno crater to the south of the landing site. The astronauts gathered 14 kilograms (31 lb) of samples, took seven gravimeter measurements, and deployed two explosive packages. The latter were detonated remotely to test geophones placed by the astronauts, and also seismometers left during previous missions. The EVA ended after seven hours and twelve minutes.
On December 12, awakened by "Ride of the Valkyries", Cernan and Schmitt began their second lunar excursion. First, the rover's fender needed a better fix. Overnight, the flight controllers devised a procedure communicated by John Young: taping four cronopaque maps together and clamping the "replacement fender extension" onto the fender.:977 The astronauts carried out the new fix which did its job, lasting the remainder of the exploration. Cernan and Schmitt then departed for station 2—Nansen Crater, at the foot of the South Massif. Upon arrival, Cernan reported their range as 7.6 km:1144 (4.7 mi, 25,029 ft) away from the lunar module; it was the furthest distance traveled away from a spacecraft during the Apollo program. The astronauts were at the extremity of their "walkback limit", a safety constraint meant to ensure that they could walk back to the LM if for whatever reason the rover failed. They began a return trip, traveling northeast. Stopping at station 4—Shorty crater—the astronauts discovered orange soil, which proved to be very small beads of volcanic glass formed over 3.5 billion years ago. The final stop before returning to the LM was Camelot crater; throughout the sojourn, the astronauts collected 34 kilograms (75 lb) of samples, took another seven gravimeter measurements, and deployed three more explosive packages. Concluding the EVA at seven hours and thirty-seven minutes, Cernan and Schmitt had completed the longest-duration EVA in history to-date, traveling further away from a spacecraft and covering more ground on a planetary body during a single EVA than any other spacefarers. Once the LM was repressurized, CAPCOM Bob Parker was particularly impressed, saying: "Absolutely outstanding. I can't say more than that. And I mean it from the bottom of my heart or the bottom of my soul or something, my conscience.":1363
The third moonwalk, the last of the Apollo program, began at 5:25 pm EST on December 13. Cernan and Schmitt rode the rover northeast of the landing site, exploring the base of the North Massif and the Sculptured Hills. Stopping at station 6, they examined a house-sized split boulder dubbed Tracy's Rock (or Split Rock), after Cernan's daughter. The ninth and final planned station was conducted at Van Serg crater. The crew collected 66 kilograms (146 lb) of lunar samples and took another nine gravimeter measurements. Before concluding the moonwalk, the crew collected a breccia rock, dedicating it to the nations of Earth, several of which were represented in Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas, at the time. A plaque located on the LM, commemorating the achievements made during the Apollo program, was then unveiled. Before reentering the LM for the final time, Gene Cernan expressed his thoughts:
... 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."
Return to Earth
Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt successfully lifted off from the lunar surface in the ascent stage of the LM on December 14, at 5:55 pm EST. After a successful rendezvous and docking with Ron Evans in the CSM in orbit, the crew transferred equipment and lunar samples between the LM and the CSM for return to Earth. Following this, the LM ascent stage was sealed off and jettisoned at 1:31 am on December 15. The ascent stage was then deliberately crashed into the Moon in a collision recorded by seismometers deployed on Apollo 17 and previous Apollo expeditions.
During the return to Earth, Evans performed a 65 minute EVA to retrieve film cassettes from the service module's scientific instrument module (SIM) bay, with assistance from Schmitt who remained at the command module's hatch. At approximately 160,000 nautical miles:1730 (184,000 mi; 296,000 km) from Earth, it was the third "deep space" EVA in history, performed at great distance from any planetary body. As of 2019, it remains one of only three such EVAs, all performed during Apollo's J-missions under similar circumstances. It was the last EVA of the Apollo program.
On December 19, the crew jettisoned the no-longer-needed SM, leaving only the CM for return to Earth. The Apollo 17 spacecraft reentered Earth's atmosphere and landed safely in the Pacific Ocean at 2:25 p.m., 6.4 kilometers (4.0 mi) from the recovery ship, USS Ticonderoga. Cernan, Evans, and Schmitt were then retrieved by a recovery helicopter and were safely aboard the recovery ship 52 minutes after landing.
Mission hardware and experiments
Lunar Roving Vehicle
Apollo 17 was the third mission (the others being Apollo 15 and Apollo 16) to make use of a Lunar Roving Vehicle. The LRV, in addition to being used by the astronauts for transport from station to station on the mission's three moonwalks, was used to transport the astronauts' tools, communications equipment, and samples. The Apollo 17 LRV was also used to carry experiments unique to the mission, such as the Traverse Gravimeter and Surface Electrical Properties experiment. The Apollo 17 LRV traveled a cumulative distance of approximately 35.9 km (22.3 mi) in a total drive time of about four hours and twenty-six minutes; the greatest distance Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt traveled from the lunar module was about 7.6 km (4.7 mi).
Biological cosmic ray experiment
Apollo 17 included a biological cosmic ray experiment (BIOCORE), carrying five mice that had been implanted with radiation monitors to see whether they suffered damage from cosmic rays.
The five pocket mice (Perognathus longimembris) were implanted with radiation monitors under their scalps and flown on the mission. The species was chosen because it was well-documented, small, easy to maintain in an isolated state (not requiring drinking water for the duration of the mission and with highly concentrated waste), and for its ability to withstand environmental stress. Four of the five mice survived the flight; the cause of death of the fifth mouse was not determined.
The study found lesions in the scalp itself and liver. The scalp lesions and liver lesions appeared to be unrelated to one another, and were not thought to be the result of cosmic rays. No damage was found in the mice's retinas or viscera. At the time of the publication of the Apollo 17 Preliminary Science Report, the mouse brains had not yet been examined. However, subsequent studies showed no significant effect on the brains.
Officially, the mice—four male and one female—were assigned the identification numbers A3326, A3400, A3305, A3356 and A3352. Unofficially, according to Cernan, the Apollo 17 crew dubbed them Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum, and Phooey.
Scientific instrument module
Sector one of the Apollo 17 SM contained the scientific instrument module (SIM) bay. The SIM bay housed three experiments for use in lunar orbit: a lunar sounder, an infrared scanning radiometer, and a far-ultraviolet spectrometer. A mapping camera, panoramic camera, and a laser altimeter were also included in the SIM bay.
The lunar sounder beamed electromagnetic impulses toward the lunar surface, which were designed with the objective of obtaining data to assist in developing a geological model of the interior of the Moon to an approximate depth of 1.3 km (0.81 mi).
The infrared scanning radiometer was designed with the objective of generating a temperature map of the lunar surface to aid in locating surface features such as rock fields, structural differences in the lunar crust, and volcanic activity.
The far-ultraviolet spectrometer was to be used to obtain data pertaining to the composition, density, and constituency of the lunar atmosphere. The spectrometer was also designed to detect far-UV radiation emitted by the Sun that has been reflected off the lunar surface.
The laser altimeter was designed with the intention of measuring the altitude of the spacecraft above the lunar surface within approximately two meters (6.6 feet), and providing altitude information to the panoramic and mapping cameras.
Throughout the Apollo lunar missions, the crew members observed light flashes that penetrated closed eyelids. These flashes, described as "streaks" or "specks" of light, were usually observed by astronauts while the spacecraft was darkened during a sleep period. These flashes, while not observed on the lunar surface, would average about two per minute and were observed by the crew members during the trip out to the Moon, back to Earth, and in lunar orbit.
The Apollo 17 crew conducted an experiment, also conducted on Apollo 16, with the objective of linking these light flashes with cosmic rays. As part of an experiment conducted by NASA and the University of Houston, one astronaut wore a device that recorded the time, strength, and path of high-energy atomic particles that penetrated the device. Evidence supports the hypothesis that these flashes occur when charged particles travel through the retina in the eye.
Apollo 17 was the only Apollo lunar landing mission to carry the Traverse Gravimeter Experiment (TGE), built by Draper Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As gravimeters had proven to be useful in the geologic investigation of the Earth, the objective of this experiment was to determine the feasibility of using the same techniques on the Moon to learn about its internal structure. The gravimeter was used to obtain relative gravity measurements at the landing site in the immediate vicinity of the lunar module, as well as various locations on the mission's traverse routes. Scientists would then use this data to help determine the geological substructure of the landing site and the surrounding vicinity.
The TGE was carried on the Lunar Roving Vehicle; measurements were taken by the astronauts while the LRV was not in motion or after the gravimeter was placed on the surface. A total of twenty-six measurements were taken with the TGE during the mission's three moonwalks, with productive results. As part of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP), the astronauts also deployed the Lunar Surface Gravimeter, a similar experiment, which ultimately failed to function properly.
Surface electrical properties experiment
Apollo 17 was the only lunar surface expedition to include the surface electrical properties (SEP) experiment. The experiment included two major components: a transmitting antenna deployed near the lunar module and a receiving antenna located on the Lunar Roving Vehicle. At different stops during the mission's traverses, electrical signals traveled from the transmitting device, through the ground, and were received at the LRV. The electrical properties of the lunar soil could be determined by comparison of the transmitted and received electrical signals. The results of this experiment, which are consistent with lunar rock composition, show that the top 2 km (1.2 mi) of the Moon are extremely dry.
The ascent stage of Lunar Module Challenger impacted the Moon December 15, 1972 at 06:50:20.8 UT (1:50 am EST), at 19.96°N 30.50°E. The descent stage remains on the Moon at the landing site, 20.19080°N 30.77168°E.
In 2009 and again in 2011, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter photographed the landing site from increasingly low orbits.
The German space company PTScientists is planning to land two lunar rovers near the landing site in 2020 or later.
Depiction of mission in fiction and popular culture
The prologue to the 1999 novel Back to the Moon, by Homer Hickam, begins with a dramatized depiction of the end of the second Apollo 17 EVA. The orange soil then becomes the major driver of the plot of the rest of the story.
Additionally, there have been fictional astronauts in film, literature and television who have been described as "the last man to walk on the Moon", implying they were crew members on Apollo 17. One such character was Steve Austin in the television series The Six Million Dollar Man. In the 1972 novel Cyborg, upon which the series was based, Austin remembers watching the Earth "fall away during Apollo XVII." In the 1998 film Deep Impact fictional astronaut Spurgeon "Fish" Tanner, portrayed by Robert Duvall, was described at a Presidential press conference as the "last man to walk on the Moon" by the President of the United States, portrayed by Morgan Freeman.
In the Anime Aldnoah.Zero, the Apollo 17 mission locates an ancient transporter gate leading to Mars left by an unknown, extinct alien race. This discovery is the divergence point for the story's alternative history.
The song "Contact" from Daft Punk includes audio from the Apollo 17 mission, courtesy of NASA and Captain Eugene Cernan.
The song "Tomorrow" by Public Service Broadcasting also includes audio of Commander Eugene A. Cernan and Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt from the mission.
- List of Apollo missions
- List of astronauts by year of selection
- List of human spaceflights
- List of human spaceflight programs
- List of landings on extraterrestrial bodies
- List of crewed spacecraft
- List of NASA missions
- List of spacewalks and moonwalks 1965–1999
- Moon landing
- The Case of the Missing Moon Rocks
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Apollo 17.|
- "Apollo 17" at Encyclopedia Astronautica
- "Apollo 17" Detailed mission information by Dr. David R. Williams, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
- Apollo 17 Press Kit (PDF) NASA, Release No. 72-220K, November 26, 1972
- "Table 2-45. Apollo 17 Characteristics" from NASA Historical Data Book: Volume III: Programs and Projects 1969–1978 by Linda Neuman Ezell, NASA SP-4012, NASA History Series (1988)
- Apollo 17 Lunar Surface Journal
- "Apollo 17 Real-Time Mission Experience" - All mission audio, film, video and photography presented in real-time.
- Apollo 17 Mission Experiments Overview at the Lunar and Planetary Institute
- Apollo 17 Voice Transcript Pertaining to the Geology of the Landing Site (PDF) by N. G. Bailey and G. E. Ulrich, United States Geological Survey, 1975
- "Apollo Program Summary Report" (PDF), NASA, JSC-09423, April 1975
- "Development of Manned Space Flight, American and Soviet" from The Partnership: A History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project by Edward Clinton Ezell and Linda Neuman Ezell, NASA SP-4209, NASA History Series (1978)
- The Apollo Spacecraft: A Chronology NASA, NASA SP-4009
- Apollo 17 "On The Shoulders of Giants" - NASA Space Program and Moon Landings Documentary on YouTube
- "The Final Flight" – excerpt from the September 1973 issue of National Geographic magazine
- "Apollo 17 Final Reflections on Apollo" at Maniac World