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December 7-19, 1972

Crew: Eugene Cernan, Ronald E. Evans, Harrison H. Schmitt

The last of NASA's Apollo missions. Cernan and Schmitt made the sixth moon landing. They collected 243 pounds of samples and made a record stay of over 75 hours on the moon's surface. Cernan was the last man on the moon.

Three further Apollo missions were canceled, in part because of the great success of the other missions, but also because of public apathy.

Apollo 17 deserves two very special footnotes in the history of the Apollo space program. Apollo 17’s launch was the first night time launch for the Saturn V launch vehicle and last flight for the Apollo program. (1) Apollo 17 landed in the Moon’s Taurus-Littrow Valley (20.19 N, 30.77 E) on the eastern edge of the Mare Serenitatis basin. (1) (2)

The landing location was significant because “Cinder cones and steep-walled valleys with large boulders at their base presented the possibility of sampling both young volcanic rock from depth and older mountainous wall material at the same location.” (1) The two objectives of Apollo 17 were to “obtain samples of ancient rocks from the lunar highlands” and “to look for evidence of young volcanic activity on the valley floor”. (2) Apollo 17 also investigated the Tycho Crater, which appears to be one of the youngest craters on the moon. (2) “The Apollo 17 crew collected 741 individual rock and soil samples, including a deep drill core that included material from 3 meters below the lunar surface, with a total mass of 111 kilograms.” (2)

The Apollo 17 crew conducted several experiments and performed photography on the lunar surface and in lunar orbit. In orbit they used a laser altimeter which measured the heights of lunar surfaces, a UV spectrometer which studied the composition of the lunar atmosphere, measured the cooling of the lunar surface at night with a IR radiometer, a S-band transponder measured variations in the gravitational acceleration of the moon and a VHF lunar sounder which studied the upper kilometer of the lunar crust. (3) While on the surface of the moon they studied the lunar soil with neutron probes and electrical waves and measured the high-energy cosmic rays from the sun and other parts of the galaxy. (4) With the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP), NASA continued to get data from the lunar surface until funding ran out in 1977. (4)

The crew of the Apollo 17 lander used an electric-powered Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) to travel 35.9 km on the moon. This was the longest of the three Apollo missions with the LRV. The Apollo 17 lunar crew was also the farthest away from the lunar module at 7.6 km and had the longest traverse at 20.1 km. The LRV was made almost entirely from aluminum in its tubing and floor panels and nylon webbing but also contained amounts of steel and titanium. (5)

(1) Lunar & Planetary Institute. Apollo 17 Mission Description Overview. Lunar & Planetary Institute.
24 Feb 2002 http://www.lpi.usra.edu/expmoon/Apollo17/A17_oview.html>
(2) Lunar & Planetary Institute. Lunar Sample Overview. Lunar & Planetary Institute.
24 Feb 2002 http://www.lpi.usra.edu/expmoon/Apollo17/A17_sampact.html
(3) Lunar & Planetary Institute. Apollo 17 Orbital Experiments. Lunar & Planetary Institute.
24 Feb 2002 http://www.lpi.usra.edu/expmoon/Apollo17/A17_orbsci.html
(4) Lunar & Planetary Institute. Apollo 17 Surface Experiments. Lunar & Planetary Institute.
24 Feb 2002 http://www.lpi.usra.edu/expmoon/Apollo17/A17_science.html
(5) NASA. The Apollo Lunar Roving Vehicle. NASA.
24 Feb 2002 http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/lunar/apollo_lrv.html

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