The huge, 363-feet tall Apollo 17 (Spacecraft 114/Lunar Module 12/Saturn 512) space vehicle is launched from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida, at 12:33 a.m. (EST), Dec. 7, 1972. Apollo 17, the final lunar landing mission in NASA’s Apollo program, was the first nighttime liftoff of the Saturn V launch vehicle. Aboard the Apollo 17 spacecraft were astronaut Eugene A. Cernan, commander; astronaut Ronald E. Evans, command module pilot; and scientist-astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt, lunar module pilot. Flame from the five F-1 engines of the Apollo/Saturn first (S-1C) stage illuminates the nighttime scene. A two-hour and forty-minute hold delayed the Apollo 17 launching.

It was 1:54PM Houston time on December 11, 1972, and four days, fourteen hours, twenty-two minutes and eleven seconds since we had blasted off from Florida. I paused for a moment and slowly exhaled after making one of the smoothest landings of my career. – The Last Man on the Moon.

More than two and a half hours of unrelenting dynamic action and steely tension had drained my senses since we undocked from “America”, and now everything came to an abrupt stop. Instant silence reigned. Not a word from Jack, who was as stunned as I, no pounding rocket, no vibration, no noise. Not the sound of a bird, the bark of a dog, not a whisper of wind or any familiar sound from my entire life… for a brief moment I stopped breathing too. Then there was nothing at all.

I lowered my left foot and the thin crust gave way. Soft contact. There, it was done. A Cernan footprint was on the moon. I had fulfilled my dream. No one could ever take this moment away. I said, “As I step off at the surface of Taurus-Littrow, I’d like to dedicate the first steps of Apollo Seventeen to all those who made it possible.” I called Houston: “Oh, my golly. Unbelievable.” I felt comfortable, as if I belonged there. I was standing on God’s front porch.

The question that I am asked most frequently is: “Did going to the Moon change you?” I would like to think that I am the same person I have always been. But how could having lived on another planet not force at least some sort of change? Walking on the Moon and walking on Main Street are two entirely different experiences. I can always walk on Main Street again, but I can never return to my valley of Taurus-Littrow, and that cold fact has left me with a yearning restlessness. It was perhaps the brightest moment of my life, and I can’t go back. I am one of only twelve human beings to have stood on the Moon. I have come to accept that, and the enormous responsibility it carries, but as for finding a suitable encore, nothing has ever come close.

Lunar Roving Vehicle

Apollo 17 mission commander Eugene A. Cernan makes a short checkout of the Lunar Roving Vehicle during the early part of the first Apollo 17 extravehicular activity at the Taurus-Littrow landing site. This view of the lunar rover prior to loadup was taken by Harrison H. Schmitt, Lunar Module pilot. The mountain in the right background is the east end of South Massif.

The voyage of Apollo 17 marked the program’s concluding expedition to the moon. The mission lifted off after midnight on December 7, 1972 from Kennedy Space Center and touched down on the lunar surface on December 11. The crew spent almost 75 hours on the lunar surface, conducted nearly 22 hours of extravehicular activities (EVAs), and traveled almost 19 miles in the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV).  During lunar lift-off on December 14, Apollo 17 Mission Commander Eugene A. Cernan remarked that the astronauts were leaving as they came, “with peace and hope for all mankind.” In this photo, taken during the second EVA on December 12, 1972, Cernan is standing near the lunar rover designed by Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.