December 14, 1972 – Last Steps on the Moon in the 20th Century

On December 11, 1972, Apollo 17 touched down on the Moon. This was the final lunar landing mission of the Apollo program, and remains our last visit to the moon. The 3-man crew – Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans, and Harrison Schmitt – made 75 orbits of the moon and spent over 22 hours on its surface. They brought back over 240 pounds of samples from the moon. Fortunately, back then, they were not required to pay for their excess baggage.

Crew of Apollo 17.   From left, astronauts Harrison Schmitt, Eugene Cernan and Ronald Evans are photographed with a lunar rover trainer and the mission's Saturn V rocket

Crew of Apollo 17. From left, astronauts Harrison Schmitt, Eugene Cernan and Ronald Evans are photographed with a lunar rover trainer and the mission’s Saturn V rocket

The BBC has an interview with Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan – the last man on the lunar surface on December 14, 1972, who discussed what it was like to be part of history and why he became unhappy about the American space program.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

But how did Apollo 17 and the other flights which preceded it manage to get there and back? Amazingly, it all took place because of the theories formulated by Isaac Newton in 1686. His three laws of motion enabled scientists to formulate precisely the three necessary stages of moon exploration: rocket lift-off, rocket momentum, and rocket engine thrust.

newtonr1

If you would like to read more about Newton’s laws and how they were applied to rocketry, you can learn more here or here.

You can also take a “real-time” journey through the Apollo 17 mission, reliving every moment, on this terrific site. It has over 300 hours of audio, 22 hours of video, and over 4,200 photos.

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