Apollo+40: Last Departure from the Lunar Surface

After three lunar surface EVAs (posts on EVA-1, EVA-2, and EVA-3), it was time for mankind’s last two lunar surface explorers to start the process of heading home.

At 188:01:39 Ground Elapsed Time (GET), 5:54PM EST, December 14, 1972, human beings left the Moon’s surface for the last time when Apollo 17‘s Commander (CDR) Gene Cernan and Lunar Module Pilot (LM) Jack Schmitt fired the engine in Lunar Module Challenger‘s ascent stage to return to lunar orbit and rendezvous with the Command/Service Module (CSM) America waiting in lunar orbit, having spent the last three days being solo flown by Command Module Pilot (CMP) Ron Evans.

This was the view from inside Challenger:

The return trip to the CSM would take about two hours.

Challenger rises from the lunar surface, seen from America

America, seen from Challenger
Challenger, with CDR Cernan visible through the port window

At 190:17:15 GET, America and Challenger were docked. CMP Evans checked that the vehicles were secure and then cleared the access tunnel between the two. The three crew members were reunited, and began the tasks associated with moving everything brought back from the Moon from the LM over to the CSM.

It took almost two hours to close out Challenger. When Cernan, Schmitt, and all their lunar haul was back aboard America and the tunnel sealed, LM-12, its work complete, was discarded and then intentionally crashed automatically into the lunar surface as a seismic experiment.

Apollo 17 wasn’t done with the Moon yet though, not by a longshot. They would remain in lunar orbit for almost two more days conducting science and observations from the CSM – work that would expand what Evans did while Cernan and Schmitt walked at Taurus-Littrow.

Please come back tomorrow for a summary of what Apollo 17 accomplished in lunar orbit science.

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