50 Years Ago: Apollo 17
Not long after midnight on Dec. 7, 1972, the last crewed mission to the Moon, Apollo 17, lifted off with three astronauts: Eugene Cernan, Harrison Schmitt, and Ronald Evans.
Experience the Apollo 17 launch and follow the mission in real time.
Meet the Crew
Let’s meet the astronauts who made the final Apollo trip to the Moon, including the first scientist-astronaut.
Gene Cernan: In 1972, Apollo 17 Mission Commander Eugene A. Cernan had two space flights under his belt, Gemini 9 in June 1966, and Apollo 10 in May 1969. He was a naval aviator, electrical and aeronautical engineer and fighter pilot.
Ron Evans: Apollo 17 Command Module Pilot Ronald E. Evans was selected as a member of the 4th group of NASA astronauts in 1966. Like Cernan, he was an electrical and aeronautical engineer, and naval aviator before his assignment to the Apollo 17 crew.
Harrison (Jack) Schmitt: Lunar Module Pilot Dr. Harrison (Jack) Schmitt joined NASA as a member of the first group of scientist-astronauts in 1965. Before working for NASA, Schmitt was a geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Center. He was on the backup crew for Apollo 15 before being selected for the prime crew of Apollo 17. He became the first of the scientist-astronauts to go to space and the 12th human to walk on the Moon.
The Blue Marble
“The Blue Marble,” one of the most reproduced images in history, was taken 50 years ago on Dec. 7, 1972 by the Apollo 17 crew as they made their way to the Moon.
Bag of Soup, Anyone?
NASA astronauts have an array of menu items to stay well fed and hydrated on missions. For Apollo 17, the menus allocated around 2,500 calories per day for each astronaut. They included:
Peanut Butter Sandwiches
Like anything going to space, weight and containment matter. That's why the Apollo 17 menu included plenty of soups and puddings.
On Dec. 11, 2022, the Artemis I mission will be splashing down on Earth after its 25.5-day mission. At 2:55 p.m. 50 years prior, the Apollo 17 lunar module (LM) landed on the Moon, with Commander Gene Cernan and LM Pilot Harrison Schmitt on board. Ron Evans remained in the Command and Service Module (CSM) orbiting the Moon.
Experience the landing.
Planting the Flag
One of the first tasks the Apollo 17 crew did on their first moonwalk was to plant the American flag. There’s no wind on the Moon, but that doesn’t mean the flag has to droop. Did you know that a horizontal rod with a latch makes the flag appear to be flying in the wind? Gene Cernan carefully composed this photo to get Schmitt, the flag, and the Earth in a single shot.
So, is the flag still there? Images of the Apollo 17 landing site from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera show that in 2011 the flag was still standing and casting a shadow!
During Apollo 17, the Lunar Rover Vehicle (LRV), nicknamed the Moon buggy, logged the farthest distance from the Lunar Module of any Apollo mission, about 4.7 miles (7.5 km).
As a precaution, the LRV had a walk-back limit in the event of an issue; astronauts had to have enough resources to walk back to the lunar module if need be.
Grab the Duct Tape!
The right rear fender extension of the LRV (Moon buggy) was torn off, kicking up dust as the crew drove, reducing visibility. The crew made a resourceful repair using duct tape and maps.
For LRV fans, visiting an LRV driven on the Moon is a bit difficult since all three LRVs used on the Apollo 15, 16, and 17 missions were left on the Moon. But you can find an LRV used for training at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington.
Read more about the LRV.
The Perils of Lunar Dust
After the first lunar EVA, Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt reported that he suffered from “lunar hay fever” in reaction to the lunar dust. Unlike Earth’s dust particles which are rounded, Moon dust particles are sharp and abrasive, irritating astronaut eyes, nasal passages, and lungs.
Curious about how Moon dust feels and smells? Find out!
So What’s it Like?
After his return to Earth, Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt (on the right) described his time on the Moon:
“Working on the Moon is a lot of fun. It’s like walking around on a giant trampoline all the time and you’re just as strong as you were here on Earth, but you don’t weigh as much.”
After 12 days and 14 hours in space, the Apollo 17 astronauts splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 2:25 p.m. EST on Dec. 19, 1972. It was the longest of all the Apollo missions, with the most photos taken. A recovery team was waiting on the USS Ticonderoga just 4 miles (6.4 km) away to pick up the astronauts, the lunar samples, and the Crew Module.
When Are We Going Back?
NASA’s Artemis Program has taken its first steps to sending humans back to the Moon with Artemis I, currently on its way back to Earth. The program plans to land humans, including the first women and person of color, on the Moon’s south polar region with its Artemis III mission, currently slated to launch in 2025.
Is aerospace history your cup of tea? Be sure to check out more from NASA’s past missions at www.nasa.gov/history.
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The Observable Universe : How far can you see? Everything you can see, and everything you could possibly see, right now, assuming your eyes could detect all types of radiations around you -- is the observable universe. In light, the farthest we can see comes from the cosmic microwave background, a time 13.8 billion years ago when the universe was opaque like thick fog. Some neutrinos and gravitational waves that surround us come from even farther out, but humanity does not yet have the technology to detect them. The featured image illustrates the observable universe on an increasingly compact scale, with the Earth and Sun at the center surrounded by our Solar System, nearby stars, nearby galaxies, distant galaxies, filaments of early matter, and the cosmic microwave background. Cosmologists typically assume that our observable universe is just the nearby part of a greater entity known as "the universe" where the same physics applies. However, there are several lines of popular but speculative reasoning that assert that even our universe is part of a greater multiverse where either different physical constants occur, different physical laws apply, higher dimensions operate, or slightly different-by-chance versions of our standard universe exist. via NASA
12 Great Gifts from Astronomy
This is a season where our thoughts turn to others and many exchange gifts with friends and family. For astronomers, our universe is the gift that keeps on giving. We’ve learned so much about it, but every question we answer leads to new things we want to know. Stars, galaxies, planets, black holes … there are endless wonders to study.
In honor of this time of year, let’s count our way through some of our favorite gifts from astronomy.
Our first astronomical gift is … one planet Earth
So far, there is only one planet that we’ve found that has everything needed to support life as we know it — Earth. Even though we’ve discovered over 5,200 planets outside our solar system, none are quite like home. But the search continues with the help of missions like our Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). And even you (yes, you!) can help in the search with citizen science programs like Planet Hunters TESS and Backyard Worlds.
Our second astronomical gift is … two giant bubbles
Astronomers found out that our Milky Way galaxy is blowing bubbles — two of them! Each bubble is about 25,000 light-years tall and glows in gamma rays. Scientists using data from our Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope discovered these structures in 2010, and we're still learning about them.
Our third astronomical gift is … three types of black holes
Most black holes fit into two size categories: stellar-mass goes up to hundreds of Suns, and supermassive starts at hundreds of thousands of Suns. But what happens between those two? Where are the midsize ones? With the help of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, scientists found the best evidence yet for that third, in between type that we call intermediate-mass black holes. The masses of these black holes should range from around a hundred to hundreds of thousands of times the Sun’s mass. The hunt continues for these elusive black holes.
Our fourth and fifth astronomical gifts are … Stephan’s Quintet
When looking at this stunning image of Stephan’s Quintet from our James Webb Space Telescope, it seems like five galaxies are hanging around one another — but did you know that one of the galaxies is much closer than the others? Four of the five galaxies are hanging out together about 290 million light-years away, but the fifth and leftmost galaxy in the image below — called NGC 7320 — is actually closer to Earth at just 40 million light-years away.
Our sixth astronomical gift is … an eclipsing six-star system
Astronomers found a six-star system where all of the stars undergo eclipses, using data from our TESS mission, a supercomputer, and automated eclipse-identifying software. The system, called TYC 7037-89-1, is located 1,900 light-years away in the constellation Eridanus and the first of its kind we’ve found.
Our seventh astronomical gift is … seven Earth-sized planets
In 2017, our now-retired Spitzer Space Telescope helped find seven Earth-size planets around TRAPPIST-1. It remains the largest batch of Earth-size worlds found around a single star and the most rocky planets found in one star’s habitable zone, the range of distances where conditions may be just right to allow the presence of liquid water on a planet’s surface.
Further research has helped us understand the planets’ densities, atmospheres, and more!
Our eighth astronomical gift is … an (almost) eight-foot mirror
The primary mirror on our Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope is approximately eight feet in diameter, similar to our Hubble Space Telescope. But Roman can survey large regions of the sky over 1,000 times faster, allowing it to hunt for thousands of exoplanets and measure light from a billion galaxies.
Our ninth astronomical gift is … a kilonova nine days later
In 2017, the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and European Gravitational Observatory’s Virgo detected gravitational waves from a pair of colliding neutron stars. Less than two seconds later, our telescopes detected a burst of gamma rays from the same event. It was the first time light and gravitational waves were seen from the same cosmic source. But then nine days later, astronomers saw X-ray light produced in jets in the collision’s aftermath. This later emission is called a kilonova, and it helped astronomers understand what the slower-moving material is made of.
Our tenth astronomical gift is … NuSTAR’s ten-meter-long mast
Our NuSTAR X-ray observatory is the first space telescope able to focus on high-energy X-rays. Its ten-meter-long (33 foot) mast, which deployed shortly after launch, puts NuSTAR’s detectors at the perfect distance from its reflective optics to focus X-rays. NuSTAR recently celebrated 10 years since its launch in 2012.
Our eleventh astronomical gift is … eleven days of observations
How long did our Hubble Space Telescope stare at a seemingly empty patch of sky to discover it was full of thousands of faint galaxies? More than 11 days of observations came together to capture this amazing image — that’s about 1 million seconds spread over 400 orbits around Earth!
Our twelfth astronomical gift is … a twelve-kilometer radius
Pulsars are collapsed stellar cores that pack the mass of our Sun into a whirling city-sized ball, compressing matter to its limits. Our NICER telescope aboard the International Space Station helped us precisely measure one called J0030 and found it had a radius of about twelve kilometers — roughly the size of Chicago! This discovery has expanded our understanding of pulsars with the most precise and reliable size measurements of any to date.
Stay tuned to NASA Universe on Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what’s going on in the cosmos every day. You can learn more about the universe here.
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