January 17, 2017 — On December 13, 1972, Eugene Cernan, the Commander of Apollo 17, left the surface of the Moon and climbed back into the lunar space module after more than 7 hours on the Moon’s surface. He was the last member of the Apollo 17 crew to step off the moon.
No one has set foot on the moon in all of the years that have passed. Cernan is, to this point, the last man on the Moon.
As he got ready to re-enter the capsule that would begin his journey back to Earth, he said, “…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.”
Cernan would trace his daughter’s initials in moon dust before he returned to the space module. There is no wind on the Moon, so they may be there still.
Probably none of the men on the Apollo 17 mission envisioned that their flight would be the last to go to the Moon. Only twelve men would stand on the Moon’s surface (the others were Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, David Scott, James Irwin, John Young, Charles Duke, and Harrison Schmitt). The Apollo program would end and the American public’s appetite for big ticket space programs would end as well.
The Last Man on the Moon is the award-winning documentary about Cernan’s time in space and his feelings about the journeys that altered his view of everything. He would retire from NASA a few years after the Apollo 17 venture. Although he was offered the chance to fly the Space Shuttle, he refused, saying, “You wouldn’t get me up there to do that. Once you’ve gone to the moon, staying home just isn’t good enough.”
But the memories that the 81-year old Cernan brings up are not just about his time on the Moon. They are about the Space Program in general, and his concern that America may not have the resolve to do something as massive, heroic and far-reaching any more.
His feelings about the space program remained strong — and virtually unchanged — from his days as a Commander. “I said, ‘I’ve been tired of being called the end. Apollo 17 is not the end. It’s just the beginning of a whole new era in the history of mankind.'”
Eugene Cernan died yesterday at 82. His death was announced by NASA.
The Last Man on the Moon is available on DVD and Blu-ray, or you can watch it immediately on Amazon Video.