7–20 December 1972
by Hamish Lindsay
|Command Module: AMERICA||Commander : Eugene Cernan|
|Lunar Module: CHALLENGER||CM Pilot : Ron Evans|
|LM Pilot : Harrison ‘Jack’ Schmitt|
|Mission Fact Box:|
|Launch from Pad 39A, Cape Kennedy||0533 UT, 1633 AEDT Thursday 7 December 1972|
|Earth to Moon elapsed time||83 hours 2 minutes 18 seconds|
|Lunar landing||GET 113:01:58, 1954:58 UT 11 December, 0654:58 AEDT Tuesday 12 December 1972|
|Lunar landing coordinates||Taurus-Littrow at 20.18809°N, 30.77475°E (Davies et al)|
|Total lunar stay time||74 hours 59 minutes 39 seconds|
|CM lunar orbits||75 orbits in 6 days 3 hours 48 minutes|
|Time on the lunar surface||3 EVAs totalling 22 hours 5 minutes|
|Total distance driven in LRV||35.7 kilometres|
|Maximum distance travelled away from the LM||7.6 kilometres|
|LM impact||15 December 1972 at 19.96°N, 30.5°E|
|Lunar samples||110.52 kilograms|
|Lunar photographs||2,237 images|
|Lunar lift-off||GET 188:01:37, 2254:37 UT 14 December, 0954:37 AEDT Friday 15 December 1972|
|Moon to Earth elapsed time||67 hours 34 minutes 5 seconds|
|Splashdown||GET 304:31:59, 1924:59 UT 19 December, 0624:59 AEDT Wednesday 20 December 1972|
|Total mission elapsed time||12 days 16 hours 31 minutes 59 seconds|
|Total distance travelled in space||2,391,486 kilometres|
Originally this mission was planned as Apollo 18, when there were to be 20 Apollo missions. But with savage budgetary cutbacks prompted by lack of Congressional support and fear of another, perhaps fatal, Apollo 13, Apollo 18 was cancelled – along with Apollos 19 and 20 – and in September 1970 became Apollo 17 – the last Apollo mission to the Moon.
Deke Slayton, the Chief Astronaut, looking at the crew for this mission decided to choose the backup crew from Apollo 14, sticking to his system of rotating the crews. So he submitted Gene Cernan, Ron Evans, and Joe Engle to NASA HQ for approval. It was rejected. With Apollos 18, 19, and 20 being cancelled, just about everyone of influence thought that a scientist should go on the last Apollo flight.
Prime candidate was geologist Harrison ‘Jack’ Schmitt, who had joined the Apollo team and began flight training in July 1965, and a year later moved into the astronauts’ offices where he acted as an interface between the flight teams on one side and the geologists on the other. He also helped develop tools for lunar exploration and the ALSEP scientific package, as well as being involved in training the astronauts. Schmitt’s allocation as backup LM pilot on the Apollo 15 mission had put him in the Apollo 18 prime crew until Apollo 18 was cancelled. So Slayton resubmitted his selection as Cernan, Commander, Evans as CM pilot and Schmitt as LM pilot, saying, “I bit the bullet and dropped Joe Engle off and replaced him with Schmitt. I hated having to explain that to Joe, but he sort of realised it was out of my hands. He took it better than I would have.”
|The Apollo 17 crew with the Lunar Rover at pad 39-A.
Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt (left) and Command Module Pilot Ron Evans stand behind Commander Gene Cernan.
NASA photo KSC-72PC-436. Courtesy of Kipp Teague’s Apollo Image Gallery. Research: J.L. Pickering.
Before they left Cernan announced he wasn’t going to let Schmitt do all the geological work, “I’m too proud an individual to let that happen because I figure I am just as good a geologist on the Moon as Jack, and if he didn’t feel he was just as good a pilot as I am, I’d be disappointed.” They worked a lot together during their training and he felt they were a good team. Cernan never hesitated to disagree with Schmitt when they differed in opinions, feeling they complemented each other with their backgrounds.
|The Apollo 17 Saturn V on pad 39-A at dusk on November 22, 1972.
NASA photo KSC-72PC-589. Scan: J.L. Pickering. Courtesy of Kipp Teague’s Apollo Image Archive.
With the last Apollo mission about to go, scientists still had many questions to be answered. The magazine Aviation Week & Space Technology of 21 February 1972 list some of them:
With Apollo 17 the last manned flight to the lunar surface for the foreseeable future, the choice of where to land and explore was critical to the geologists. Lava upwelling was understood, which had flooded most of the basins over the ensuing half billion years, but the main objective now was to find evidence of later volcanism. There were three final candidates, Taurus-Littrow, Alphonsus, a 111 kilometre crater that appears to have volcanoes in its floor, and Gassendi, a 93 kilometre crater with a central peak. Jack Schmitt had proposed a landing on the far side using communications satellites, which had actually been costed, but was vetoed on the grounds of expense.
Gassendi was dropped as NASA thought it was potentially too hazardous for operational reasons and Taurus-Littrow was favoured by the geologists for the geologic variety of the valley and the possibility of collecting dark soil and lavas dug out by lunar impacts. The valley is covered by a dark, fine-grained mantle that has no large blocks or boulders, and is pock marked by small, dark halo craters thought to be volcanic vents near the landing site. It looked as though the south eastern rim of Serenitatis would provide both ancient and young lurain.
It was Al Worden, the CM Pilot from Apollo 15, who set the seal on Taurus-Littrow. While orbiting the Moon he had seen the dark halo craters that looked like cinder cones scattered over the region’s brighter surfaces, particularly Shorty Crater. Many of the geologists believed these were cinder cones, and streaks on the Massifs suggested they were volcanic vents. A landslide on South Massif promised to bring the mountain’s material within collecting range. The selectors examined a variety of sites along the eastern arc, where it was flooded by the dark mantle. It is also near one of the largest known Mascons. Intensive studies of specially enlarged Apollo 15 photographs from orbit were conducted before the site was finally chosen and announced to the public during February 1972, before Apollo 16 set forth. It was also hoped that rocks both older and younger than previous missions would be found.
Major objectives of the mission were to observe and sample:
Flanked by mountains of 2000 metres plus on either side, the Taurus-Littrow valley is an open fracture through the eastern rim of the Mare Serenitatis basin. This mare was probably created by a large object, a planetesimal, travelling at nearly 11,000 kilometres per hour, colliding with the Moon some 3.9 billion years ago. The collision fractured rocks to a depth of nearly 25 kilometres and brought material to the lunar surface, scattering debris around the rim. Later volcanic eruptions filled the basin with lava, some flowing into the Taurus-Littrow valley floor. As lava cools quickly, to fill this basin enormous amounts of lava must have erupted quickly. The slopes of the two big mountains range from 20º to 30º, too steep for a vehicle or walking astronaut to negotiate. It was hoped that sampling large boulders that had rolled down the slopes would give the astronauts material from high up the mountain. Some of these boulder tracks were up to 2 kilometres long.
The Taurus-Littrow site is named for the Taurus Mountains and Littrow Crater located in the mountainous region south east of the Serenitatis basin. It is named after the constellation Taurus (the Bull) and the Austrian astronomer/mathematician Joseph Johann von Littrow (1781-1840).
Surface Scientific Experiments
To broaden the lunar database, 7 new surface experiments not used on previous missions were deployed:
Mice for Companions
The only new biological experiment on this mission was five pocket mice from the Californian desert secreted in a special canister in the Command Module. They were used to determine if heavy ionising cosmic ray particles could injure nerve cells in the brain and eye. Small, at 8.5 grams each, these mice require no water. Each mouse was sealed in a 33.8 long by 17.8 centimetre wide tube with a supply of seeds for food and had a cosmic ray detector implanted under the scalp. The seeds contain enough water for the mice to survive. The astronauts had no part in the experiment.
Four mice survived the journey and a total of 80 cosmic particles were registered in the detectors of the five mice, 9 of which did not pass through the heads. The absence of demonstrable lesions in the brain and eyes left unresolved the degree of vulnerability of the brain tissue to this source of radiation.
Solar flares, or storms, are quite common, but usually not strong enough to be a hazard to astronauts in space. Flares powerful enough to be a danger to astronauts can occur twice a decade. It is interesting to note that in August 1972, half way in time between Apollo 16 and 17, a solar flare occurred which would have been strong enough to give the astronauts a radiation dose high enough to cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, with the possibility of death if not treated in time. We were lucky!
Videoing the LM launch
Commenting on the planned video of the lunar liftoff using the Rover TV camera controlled by Ed Fendell (Captain Video) in Mission Control, Houston, Cernan wrote,
DSS 43, a new 64-metre dish antenna at Tidbinbilla
Over at the Tidbinbilla Deep Space Communications Complex near Canberra, Australia, a new 64 metre Az/El dish antenna (named Ballima) was being completed.
The 210 foot dish of DSS-43.
Deputy Station Director Mike Dinn had the idea of it supporting the Apollo 17 mission. He explains,
Tidbinbilla management decided that the new 64-metre antenna would only track the Command & Service Module (CSM).
|The DSS-43 Support Plan for Apollo 17 – a 3.5MB PDF file.
With thanks to Mike Dinn.
Mission Call Signs and Patch
Apollo 17 was the last Apollo mission to the moon, so the spacecraft were named with appropriate dignity, the Command Module America as a tribute to the mission and the American public. The Lunar Module was called Challenger because of what the future held for America.
The patch for Apollo 17 was also full of symbolism. Cernan explained the significance of the design to me:
A normal Apollo mission plan would have ended in a landing on the moon during a solar eclipse, putting the spacecraft in shadow for up to nine hours. The engineers felt that some of the spacecraft systems might not survive such a long cold period, so to arrive at the target in sunlight with the sun at the right angle, planned for 13.3° above the lunar horizon, Apollo 17 was scheduled to have the first night launch. To be conditioned for the upcoming night work the astronauts stayed up through the preceding nights.
Other differences were the Trans Lunar Injection (TLI) rocket burn over the Atlantic Ocean instead of the Pacific; two descent orbit insertion manoeuvres instead of one; and a southerly rather than a northerly track on reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere.
Cernan had experienced the fantastic thrill of a Saturn V lift-off before in Apollo 10, so he advised Schmitt and Evans, “Soak up the experience because we’re going to shake, rattle and roll. I want you to enjoy this, enjoy every second before it’s gone. This will be one of the most breathtaking experiences you’ve ever had, and we won’t be back this way again.” After trying to explain what they were about to experience, Cernan realised that they would never understand what he was telling them until they experienced it for themselves.
Flight Director Gene Kranz, on duty for the launch, saw this crew as the most relaxed of all the Apollo crews, probably because being the last mission and the end of the Apollo program, some of the strict protocol was relaxed, and also there had been no crises leading up to the launch. Listening to the conversation from the astronauts as they went about their tasks on the Moon bears this observation out.
The Australian Government’s Minister for Supply, Mr (later Sir) Victor Garland, said before the mission in a news release, “I am certain that all Australians will follow with interest the achievements of this mission which marks the end of perhaps the greatest scientific and technological program in history, and one in which many Australians have played a dedicated part.”
|DAY 1||Launch||Thursday 7 December 1972|
|The Only Saturn V Night Launch|
|GET : 00:00:00||0033:00 EST||0533:00 UT||1633:00 AEDT|
The astronauts climbed out of their beds at noon and tucked away the usual steak and eggs before facing the final briefings and procedures. The weather was looking doubtful with a cold front sweeping in from the west, passing over the Florida panhandle. Thick clouds threatened thunderstorms.
As he approached the Launch Umbilical Tower (LUT) Cernan was very aware that this was a special event he was responsible for – they were going to be the last men to go to the Moon for a long time. He had done this trip before in Apollo 10, when everybody’s mood was very different. Approaching the elevator he looked up at the giant rocket, towering 116 metres above him in the dark; in his words, it “… sparkled like a jewel rampant against the night sky, centre stage and draped in spotlights.” Frosty ice and mysterious wisps of vapour clung to the sides, shimmerjng in the spotlights. Isolated from the world in his space suit and helmet he couldn’t talk to or hear anyone, the only sound was the steady hiss of the oxygen from his portable life-support system. Crossing the narrow walkway to the White Room over the Command Module hatch he felt this was different to Apollo 10, it was a new sensation with the surrounding darkness pierced by the brilliant spotlights. This time he was going to walk on the Moon’ surface.
As he buckled up in the left seat and plugged in he was connected back to the outside world. Farewell taps on his helmet, shaking gloved hands before the hatch closed; the White Room slid away and he began to go through the pre-flight check list.
Meanwhile over in Mission Control in Houston Duty Flight Director Gene Kranz noted that the launch countdown was a nightmare to him during the last hour when Mission Control suffered a series of power glitches and the display systems failed and controllers considered having to relocate to adjacent emergency working consoles. Luckily the problems were fixed by T-7 minutes.
The countdown progressed until, “This is Apollo Launch Control, we’re holding at the 30 second mark,”…
There was a hold at 2 minutes 47 seconds before the scheduled launch, when the Terminal Countdown Sequencer failed to issue the S-IVB LOX tank pressurization command due to a defective diode in a printed circuit board. As a result, an automatic hold command was issued at T-30 seconds, which lasted 1 hour 5 minutes 11 seconds. The countdown was recycled to T-22 minutes, but was held again at T-8 minutes to resolve the sequencer corrective action. This hold lasted 1 hour 13 minutes 19 seconds. Ron Evans drifted off into sleep while they waited, snoring gently. The countdown was then picked up at T-8 minutes and proceeded smoothly to launch. The delays totalled 2 hours 40 minutes.
The planned launch window was 2153 on 7 December to 0131 on 8 December Florida times to take advantage of a sun elevation angle on the lunar surface of 13.3°.
At the launch site the threatening weather cleared, though flickers of lightning could be seen away in the distance. The temperature was 21ºC; the relative humidity was high at 93%; a light breeze was blowing at 8 knots from the north. Stratocumulus clouds with a base of 2,600 feet covered 20 percent of the sky and high above them cirrus clouds covered 50 percent.
Watched by an estimated 700,000 spectators, the mighty Saturn V was lit for the second last time (the last time was to launch Skylab 1) at 33 minutes after midnight local time, 00:00:00 GET (1633 AEDT), on Thursday 7 December 1972. It was a brilliant spectacle.
Hear the launch. Recorded off-air in Sydney.
|Apollo 17 lifts off the pad in the only night-time Saturn V launch.
NASA photo S72-55482.
|The Saturn V is about to clear the tower. NASA photo.|
With an intensity equal to the sun, the dazzling glare from the streaming wake of the giant rocket lit up the night sky and was seen as far away as Cuba and North Carolina, over 800 kilometres away. Clouds of white vapour boiled and writhed in the spotlights as the rockets spewed out their gases...............
When the powerful five F-1 engines of the S-1C first stage fired, the astronauts could not see the stupendous spectacle they made as they speared up into the black sky above, their cockpit and suits glowing a lurid red from the rocket’s glare reflecting off the nearby stratocumulus clouds through the Commander’s window.
A roll manoeuvre was initiated at +13 seconds to put the vehicle on a flight azimuth of 91.503° east of north. The escape tower, normally blasted off without much of a spectacle in the bright daylight, departed in a blinding flash of fire, “akin to the birth of a comet,” wrote Cernan.
Timelapse photo of the Saturn V’s departure.
Astronaut Gordon Fullerton saw the launch and told the crew later as Capcom,
Schmitt found the 4gs on the way up was difficult, “A Saturn V launch is something I wish everybody could experience. First there was extremely heavy vibration and acceleration, then at 2 minutes and 45 seconds you’re at four times gravity – 4gs. It makes you feel very, very heavy – your arm now weighs four times what it normally weighs so you can imagine lying on your back and reaching up to touch the panel in front of you takes a fair amount of effort – mainly because you’re not used to doing it. It’s not that you can’t do it, it’s just that you’re not used to it.”
As they cleared the clouds hugging the planet, Cernan tried to see any stars, but found that the cabin lights dulled his night vision.
Apollo 17 entered a 167.2 by 166.7 kilometre Earth orbit at 00:11:52 GET (1644:52 AEDT). A speed of 28,094.6 kilometres per hour gave a period of 87.8 minutes to orbit the Earth. Approaching the African coast the crew were treated to a spectacular sunrise.
Houston received a personal message to the crew of Apollo 17 from the President of the United States:
At 52 minutes 20 seconds (1725:20 AEDT) into the mission the spacecraft rose over Carnarvon’s horizon and conversation flowed again.
Capcom Robert Overmyer in Mission Control: “Okay, and on page 2-17 of the Launch checklist you’re going to want to delete all reference to Honeysuckle AOS (acquisition of spacecraft signal) and LOS (loss of signal) and delete all reference to Canary’s AOS and LOS.”
At Honeysuckle Creek we did not see the two Earth orbits as originally planned because of the late lift-off requiring a launch azimuth of 91.503°. Apollo 17 was the first spacecraft to break out of Earth orbit and head for the moon from over the Atlantic instead of the Pacific because the Saturn IVB rocket was not quite powerful enough under the conditions to push the spacecraft to escape velocity from the Pacific. The crew and spacecraft were all ready for TLI (Trans Lunar Injection) by the time they arrived over Goldstone, California, on the first orbit. By 1808 AEDT they were passing Houston and approaching Florida for the first time and trying to pick out landmarks in the darkness below.
At 2:25:15 GET (1858:15 AEDT) Carnarvon locked on to Apollo 17 for their second pass and the final figures for the TLI were passed up. During the second orbit over Hawaii tracking station Mission Control in Houston gave the message for Apollo 17 to GO for the Moon.
Tracking for the TLI burn was through an ARIA aircraft flying over the Atlantic, before Ascension Island picked them up. The TLI burn itself occurred at 03:12:36.60 GET (1945:36 AEDT) at an altitude of 179.6 kilometres with a 5 minute 51.04 second Saturn IVB burn, which boosted their speed to 39,014.1 kilometres per hour. Their two Earth orbits had lasted a total of 3 hours 6 minutes 45 seconds. This manoeuvre shortened the trans lunar coast period by 2 hours 40 minutes to compensate for the launch delay to ensure the lighting conditions on the Moon would still conform to the original Flight Plan. Cernan: “We started the burn in darkness and flew right on through a sunrise during the TLI burn. We shut down in daylight. It was pretty spectacular.”
Apollo 17’s Groundtrack leading up to TLI.
Scanned and processed by Hamish Lindsay. More here.
The CSM separation from the SIVB began at 03:42:36.60 GET GET (2015:27 AEDT), with Evans in the driving seat. The LM was transposed and re-docked 14½ minutes later. The LM was pressurised, the entry hatch removed and an inspection revealed that latches 7, 9 and 10 were not locked. All were manually set and the docked spacecraft were ejected from the Saturn IVB at 7:25:02 GET (2118:02 AEDT). As they parted company Schmitt exclaimed, “Hey…there’s the booster!”
Challenger sitting in her nest. NASA photo AS17-148-22695.
Apollo 17 Trans Lunar Coast groundtrack.
Note the time ticks every 30 minutes as Apollo 17 climbs above the Indian Ocean after its TLI burn off the west coast of Africa.
Scanned and processed by Hamish Lindsay.
The LM was transposed and re-docked 14½ minutes later. The LM was pressurised, the entry hatch removed and an inspection revealed that the handles for latches 7, 9 and 10 were not locked. All were manually set and the docked spacecraft were ejected from the Saturn IVB at 4:45::02 GET (2118:02 AEDT).
With a successful LM docking and separation from the Saturn IVB at 6:37:10 GET (2030:10 AEDT), they were ready for their trip to the Moon, and began coasting away from their home planet.
The S-IVB. NASA photo AS17-148-22714.
At 05:03:01 GET (2136:01 AEDT) a 79.9 second separation burn was executed to make sure the CSM would not collide with the S-IVB, and the crew could begin to relax, getting out of their suits.
At 40,000 kilometres from Earth, while the crew were waxing eloquent descriptions of their views of the Earth, concentrating on Africa and Antarctica, Overmyer informed them,
Schmitt was intrigued with the weather patterns he could see on the retreating planet below him. It was an unusually clear day on Earth. While Cernan and Evans were getting out of their suits, Schmitt, a keen amateur meteorologist, happily announced detailed weather reports for an hour. He even tried predictions. It prompted Capcom Gordon Fullerton to comment: “You’re a regular human weather satellite!” Cernan called him the Dr Rock weather channel.
Schmitt, in space for the first time, found he was unable to communicate his feelings to Houston and said,
This famous ‘Blue Marble’ photo was taken by Harrison Schmitt not long after Transposition, Docking and Extraction.
NASA photo AS17-148-22726, this scan courtesy of the Lunar and Planetary Institute. This image has been rotated 180°.
Several almost identical photographs were taken around the same time. AS17-148-22727 is also often seen.
At 5:30:00 GET (2202:59 AEDT) Gene Kranz’s White Team of flight controllers handed over to Pete Frank’s Orange team.
At 7:15:00 GET Capcom Bob Overmyer was relieved by Bob Parker, and Commander of the back up crew, John Young, left the control room where he had been sitting beside the Capcom after returning from witnessing the launch at the Cape.
|DAY 2||TLC Day 1||
Friday 8 December 1972
|CSM 2-way||1133 from GDS handover to ACN at 2236||
2-way duration : 11h 3m
|IU 2-way||1418 from GDS handover to MAD at 2228||
2-way duration : 8h 10m
|DSS43 (new 62 metre dish at Tidbinbilla)|
At 8:59:31 GET (0832:31 spacecraft time, 0132:31 AEDT), 80,000 kilometres from Earth, travelling at 9,836 kilometres per hour with the spacecraft spinning at 3 revolutions per hour for thermal control, the crew’s first rest period of nearly 6 hours began. Although they had been awake and active emotionally for about 21½ hours, they were too excited to sleep – only managing to doze off intermittently.
At 10:00:00 GET (0933:00 AEDT) there was another shift change at Houston, with the Orange Team handing over to Jerry Griffin’s Gold Team. Bob Parker stayed on as Capcom until Gordon Fullerton took over to wake the astronauts up.
At around 0500 AEDT (midday locally in Houston), while the astronauts were still resting, Booster Systems engineer Frank Van Renssalaer stood up from his console in Mission Control and packed his briefcase. His had just finished his last task for the Apollo program, organising the booster for lunar impact. He called the Flight Director: “I’ve enjoyed working with you on the Apollo Program,” and walked out, leaving an empty console. It was the last time that console would ever be used. So began the end of the operational phase of the Apollo flights to the Moon.
Houston roused the crew up at 15:02:57 GET (0735:57 AEDT) at the end of their rest period to find they were over the Pacific Ocean, and the Earth had shrunk dramatically. While the American continents were rolling away from them, and Australia was approaching them, the astronauts tucked into a breakfast of sausage patties, grits and cocoa.
In a brief exchange at 18:57:58 GET (1130:58 AEDT), Fullerton called,
An hour and five minutes later Schmitt gave a description of what he could see over Australia,
At 21:10:24 GET (1343:24 AEDT) Schmitt interrupted a break with,
At 23:38:35 GET (1611:35 AEDT) the new 64-metre antenna at Tidbinbilla rated a mention:
The Public Affairs announcer added, “The new 210 foot dish antenna at Tidbinbilla, which is near Honeysuckle Creek, which in turn is near Canberra, now on line and accounting for our excellent signal strikes on the spacecraft.”
The next rest/sleep period began at 24:42:00 GET (1715:00 AEDT) with Cernan and Evans turning in before Schmitt. Their circadian clocks were telling them it was midnight:
Then Schmitt explained his feelings,
So 44 rumbling minutes later, at 25:26:26 GET (1759:26 AEDT) Schmitt ended the day with,
While the crew were sleeping, at 30:03:00 GET (2236:00 AEDT) Apollo 17 crossed the half way mark in distance between the Earth and the Moon. The spacecraft was at a distance of 212,585.5 kilometres from both the Earth and Moon. Its velocity relative to the Earth was 4,961.9 kilometres per hour, and relative to the Moon was 4,198.2 kilometres per hour.
|DAY 3||TLC Day 2||
Saturday 9 December 1972
|IU 2-way||1417 from GDS handover to MAD at 2248||
2-way duration : 8h 31m
|CSM 2-way||from GDS 1053 handover to MAD at 2233||
2-way duration : 11h 40m
The next day in the spacecraft began at 33:31:23 GET (0204:23 AEDT) with the usual medical and status reports. Schmitt reported he had a breakfast of cinnamon toast bread, mixed fruit, instant breakfast, coffee, lemonade, peach ambrosia, one slice of bread, grapefruit drink, gingerbread, and an orange drink,
The 2-hour 40-minute launch delays caused ground controllers to modify Apollo 17’s trajectory so that it would arrive at the Moon at the originally scheduled time. They shortened the Trans Lunar Coast (TLC) time by having the crew make a 1.73-second SPS burn midcourse correction at 35:29:59.91 GET (0402:59 AEDT).
With only Goldstone tracking, Cernan and Schmitt transferred to the LM at 40:10:00 GET (0843 AEDT) to check the LM out. They found that #4 docking latch was not properly latched. Evans moved the latch handle between 30° and 45°, disengaging the hook from the docking ring. After discussion with ground control, it was decided to curtail further action on the latch until the second LM inspection. The remainder of the LM checks were okay and they climbed back into the Command Module, and the LM was closed out at 42:11:00 GET (1044 AEDT), just a few minutes after we acquired the CSM’s signal at Honeysuckle Creek.
At 48:09:00 GET (1642:00 AEDT) Gene Kranz’s White team took over from Pete Frank’s Orange team, led tonight by Chuck Lewis. At 48:36:12 GET (1709:12 AEDT) the last words were spoken before the astronauts bunked down for another planned rest/sleep period of 8 hours.
|DAY 4||TLC Day 3||
Sunday 10 December 1972
|CSM 2-way||from GDS 1423 handover to MAD at 2223||
2-way duration : 8h 0m
|IU 2-way||1146 from GDS handover to MAD at 2238||
2-way duration : 10h 52m
Cernan noted that they must have been very tired as it took Houston ten attempts to wake the astronauts up beginning at 56:30:00 GET (0103:00 AEDT). The ground tried three loud renditions of “I’m Jay, Jay, Jay Jayhawk,” the fighting song of Evan’s alma mater, the University of Kansas. Finally, an hour after the planned wake up time, Schmitt spotted a light blinking at them and said, “Hey! We’re asleep.”
At 59:59:00 GET (0432 AEDT) a second housekeeping visit to the LM began and all tests checked out okay. While Cernan and Schmitt were busy in the LM, Evans was troubleshooting the latch #4 problem. Following instructions from Houston, he stroked the latch handle and succeeded in cocking the latch and left it cocked for the CSM/LM rendezvous later on.
At 65 hours the GET clocks were all advanced by 2 hours 40 minutes to 67 hours 40 minutes to bring it back into line with the original Flight Plan. This essay has done the same.
At 68:19 GET (1012 AEDT) a one hour visual light flash experiment began. In earlier missions astronauts had reported that with their eyes shut they sometimes saw brief streaks of light. It was suspected that cosmic rays were triggering their retinas. For this experiment Evans donned a helmet that covered his eyes and had slowly moving plates of photographic film that would record any cosmic rays entering his head. He wore the helmet for an hour and reported all the flashes he saw. Cernan wore a blindfold and also reported any flashes he saw. It took the two astronauts about 15 minutes for their eyes to adapt to the dark to see the flashes. They then reported seeing bright and dull flashes once every 2½ minutes.
At 73:17:45 GET (1510:45 AEDT) the spacecraft left the Earth’s gravitational influence and at 61,000 kilometres from the Moon the spacecraft slowed to a speed relative to the Moon of 2,583 kilometres per hour before it began to dive faster and faster down to the Moon.
At 73:47:15 GET (1540:15 AEDT) Houston wished them another goodnight with, “Goodnight, Gene. Got a busy day tomorrow, and we’ll….we’ll be with you then.”
At 74:50:00 GET Gene Kranz and his White Team moved in to take over the shift from Chuck Lewis, temporarily leading the Orange Team.
After their sleep period of 7 hours 43 minutes, it was still late Sunday at Honeysuckle Creek when Gene Cernan called Houston first at 81:30:09 GET (23:23:09 AEDT). Houston gave the astronauts an extra half hour off as everything was in such good shape. At Honeysuckle Creek we had just finished our day’s tracking 18 minutes before.
|DAY 5||Into Lunar Orbit||Monday 11 December 1972|
|CSM into Lunar Orbit (LOI) at||88:54:22 GET||0647:22 AEDT||Orbit 109.5 x 26.9 kilometres|
|Saturn IV impact at||89:39:42 GET||0732:42 AEDT|
|Descent Orbit Insertion (DOI) at||93:11:37.43 GET||1104:37 AEDT|
|At 1501 AEDT 2-way CSM. 3-way at 2253 AEDT|
|Wing HSKX||Orbit 9|
At 83 hours GET (0053:00 AEDT) there was another shift change in Mission Control with Gerry Griffin’s team replacing Kranz’s team. Gordon Fullerton took over from Bob Parker as Capcom.
Parker, “And 17, your peaceful night shift Capcom is signing off – I’ll talk to you on the surface tomorrow. Good luck.”
At 86:49:00 GET (0442:00 AEDT) Cernan could see the Moon now, some 18,500 kilometres away. The Sun was low on the lunar horizon, but the Moon seemed to blot out everything else.
Not even the simulators in Houston could portray the dramatic reality of this moment.
Cernan shaded his eyes from the Sun’s relentless glare and tried to remember the view he had in Apollo 10. Outside the spacecraft it was brilliant sunlight as they closed in on the Moon, now large and close by – though Cernan could not see it, he could feel its presence.
Schmitt added his impressions,
It was time to go into lunar orbit (LOI).
Tracked by Madrid and Goldstone, Challenger disappeared behind the Moon at 88:43:21 GET (0636:21 AEDT), almost exactly four years after Apollo 8.
Into Lunar Orbit
At an altitude of 142.2 kilometres above the Moon with 88:54:22.6 hours on their GET clock (0647:22 AEDT) they fired the SPS motor for 6 minutes 33.16 seconds to place them in a 97.4 by 314.8 kilometre elliptical orbit.
They had been travelling from Earth to the Moon (TLC) for exactly 83 hours 2 minutes 18 seconds.
Once they were in orbit Schmitt glued himself to his window and launched into an excited tirade of descriptions of the lunar surface, “Going into lunar orbit gave me a chance as a geologist to begin to look first hand at features that I had seen only in photographs. As you fly over these features such as crater Copernicus you get to see a three dimensional view that I had never been able to do from photographs at the time. One thing, though, on our early orbits we had strong Earth light in the part of the Moon not illuminated by the Sun and I was impressed by how strong that light was; I could see all the features I was familiar with very distinctly – it was strong enough to cast shadows.”
Then suddenly they plunged into the Moon’s shadow for about an hour, emerging back into sunlight at 0439 AEDT. Cernan felt a slight impression of vertigo, as if he was falling down a shaft to pancake onto a crater. Schmitt was also impressed by the sheer bulk of the rock floating in front of them, and became silent, again unable to communicate his feelings.
The S-IVB impacted the lunar surface at 89:39:42 GET (0732:42 AEDT). The impact point was latitude 4.21° south and longitude 12.37° west, 155.6 kilometres from the target point, 339 kilometres from the Apollo 12 seismometer, 157 kilometres from the Apollo 14 seismometer, 1,032 kilometres from the Apollo 15 seismometer, and 850 kilometres from the Apollo 16 seismometer. The impact was recorded by all four ALSEP instruments from the previous missions. At impact, the S-IVB was travelling at 9,180 kilometres per hour.
At 90:43:00 GET (0836 AEDT) the spacecraft went behind the Moon’s rim at the end of its first orbit and Goldstone’s Net 1 loops fell silent.
Flight Director Pete Frank’ of the Orange Team in Mission Control received a ‘GO’ for a DOI burn from all the positions so at 93:11:37.43 GET (1104:37 AEDT), just after the start of the third orbit behind the Moon and just under 23½ minutes before we had AOS, a 22.27 second SPS Descent Orbit Insertion (DOI) burn was executed to lower the CSM to the descent orbit of 109.2 by 26.8 kilometres in preparation for undocking the LM, and for the astronauts to familiarise themselves with the landing area. Gazing out of his window Schmitt snapped out of his trance and launched into a breathless geologist’s description of the lunarscape passing by, “not mere sentences, but whole paragraphs in a single breath,” Cernan commented.
It is interesting that with all the high tech equipment around them, a humble pair of scissors was a life threatening important part of their kit. It was all they had to slice open their food packs. There were three pairs – one for the CSM and two for the LM. The Command Module’s pair was lost and Evans was determined to find them.
The CSM/LM combination was retained in this orbit 17 hours before the spacecraft were separated, giving the astronauts a rest period beginning at 97:47:07 GET (1540:07AEDT) during the fifth orbit around the Moon.
At 98:52:00 GET (1645:00 AEDT) in Mission Control Pete Frank’s team handed over to Gene Kranz and his White Team.
During the ninth orbit at 105:45:00 GET (2338:00 AEDT) the astronauts woke up to the words “Good morning, America, how are you?” from the song “The City of New Orleans” sung by Arlo Guthrie.
|DAY 6||Lunar Landing and Lunar Stay Day 1||
Tuesday 12 December 1972
|CSM orbits 15 through 21|
|CSM/LM undocking||GET : 110:27:56||0420:56 AEDT|
|LM Touchdown||GET : 113:01:58||0654:58 AEDT|
|Landing Coordinates : 20.18809° North Latitude by 30.77475° East Longitude. (Davies et al 1987)|
|Commander Cernan on surface||117:11:09 GET||1104:09 AEDT|
|EVA 1||Start: 117:01:49 GET||1054:49 AEDT|
|End : 124:13:42 GET||1806:42 AEDT||Duration : 7h 11m 53s|
|TV through HSK||Start at AOS : 118:40:00 GET||1232 AEDT|
|End : 123:34:00 GET||1727 AEDT||Duration : 4h 55m|
|First Apollo 17 ALSEP data received at||120:01:00 GET||1354 AEDT|
ALSEP 1 & 4
from GDS (LM/Rover) 1525.
|2-way Duration : 8h 13m|
|Wing HSKX||Orbit 16||Orbit 20|
|CSM 2-way 1405||3-way at 2200||2-way Duration : 7h 55m|
|CSM 2-way 2131||Handover to GWM at 2153||2-way duration : 0h 22m|
|DSS43||Orbit 16||Orbit 21|
They began dressing into their space suits during the 10th orbit, Cernan saying, “Gordo, we’re hustling like heck – we might make it,” as they vanished around the corner.
They entered the LM at 107:42 GET (0835 spacecraft time, 11 December, 0135 AEDT) and organised the ships for separating.
Challenger hangs in the blackness of space after separation from America.
NASA photo AS17-151-23201. Scan: JSC via Apollo Image Archive.
|Lost among the Mountains of the Moon.
The CSM America speeds over the lunar surface, photographed from the Lunar Module. Below the CSM lies the target for the mission, the Taurus-Littrow Valley with the Sculptured Hills in the foreground. Directly behind the CSM is South Massif and to the right is North Massif. Away in the distance is Mare Serenitatis.
NASA photo AS17-147-22465. Scan: JSC via Apollo Image Archive.
The Last Apollo Lunar Landing
As they entered their thirteenth orbit, they undocked with a 3.4 second RCS burn at 110:27:56 GET (0420:56 AEDT) at an altitude of 87.4 kilometres, while in an orbit of 113.9 by 21.3 kilometres.
Only Madrid was tracking during the undocking, with Goldstone joining in for the landing itself. It was breakfast time in the early morning at Honeysuckle Creek, out of sight on the other side of the planet.
At 110:59:39 GET (0452:39 AEDT), after undocking, Cernan called, “Gordo, we’ve got the landing site – we’re coming right over the front of it – stand by a minute, you can see the Slide; I think you can see the Great Cross.”
After undocking, the CSM backed away with a 3.8 second burn at 111:57:28.9 GET (0550:28 AEDT) to circularise its orbit to 129.6 by 100 kilometres. At 112:02:42 GET (0555:42 AEDT) a second LM descent orbit insertion burn of 21.5 seconds lowered its orbit to 110.4 by 11.5 kilometres. From this orbit, at a height of 17 kilometres, a long 12 minute 5 second Descent Propulsion System (DPS) burn at 112:49:53 GET (642:53 AEDT) set the LM on a course for the lunar surface.
This light was warning there was not enough fuel to land, but actually was a false warning. Cernan and Schmitt both knew that they had enough fuel and decided it wasn’t particularly important. Cernan noted, “Theoretically, by the numbers, we probably should have aborted. But you don’t just do things; you don’t overreact.” Cycling the PQGS (Propellent Quantity Gauging System) switch extinguished the light.
Now they were zipping along 17.3 kilometres above the lunar surface, lying on their backs, with their feet facing forward, looking up at the black sky. Cernan flew the LM a little south of the CSM’s orbital plane so they could line up with the axis of the Taurus-Littrow Valley.
Coming in to land Schmitt called the numbers while Cernan skilfully steered the LM into the Valley of Taurus-Littrow.
“I knew this place better than the palm of my own hand,” wrote Cernan, “And there were no surprises as we zoomed towards the jagged highlands that separate the Sea of Tranquillity from the Sea of Serenity.”
Audio recorded at Honeysuckle Creek from Net 1.
Cernan felt the LM had become part of him, responding to his every command, “Hey, I don’t need numbers any more. I got it.” He felt it was hard enough keeping his focus on what was coming and too busy to listen to any more data, for the numbers didn’t tell the whole story. What he saw outside through the window forced decisions on when to slow down, dodge left or right, or maintain a steady rate.
From 8 kilometres east of the landing site, at an altitude of 3,810 metres, Cernan kept Houston informed, “Okay, Gordo, I’ve got Nansen; I’ve got Lara; and I’ve got the Scarp…. oh, man, we’re level with the top of the Massifs now!”
Then at a height of 3,657 metres Cernan started to bring the spacecraft upright and could now begin to see their target with crater Poppie in his sights.
All the earlier Apollo flights had the Earth overhead as they came in to land, but in Apollo 17 the astronauts were looking straight at the Earth as they came down the valley.
At 2,133 metres they were upright, and Cernan wrote, “Earth now dangled like a colourful Christmas ornament smack-dab in the middle of Challenger’s window.” Slipping between North Massif on their right, and South Massif on their left, the LM hopped over an unexpected huge boulder and deep hole before heading towards the crater Camelot. Beyond were jagged, tooth-like rocks rearing out of the lurain. At 300 metres Cernan felt the chosen target looked good…
Spotting a clear patch Cernan dropped the LM onto the lunar surface. The dangling sensors brushed the lurain, triggering the blue console light on, and Schmitt immediately announced, “Contact.”
Cernan shut the motors off and the spacecraft suddenly dropped like a stone. The two astronauts felt as though their stomachs were jolted up into their throats.
Landing occurred at 113:01:58 GET (1354:58 spacecraft time on 11 December, or 0654:58 AEDT on 12 December).
Challenger had landed in the Taurus-Littrow region at latitude 20.18809° North and longitude 30.77475° East (Davies et al 1987), within 200 metres east of the planned landing point.
Madrid was prime station for the landing sequence, with Goldstone joining in just before the landing itself.
At Honeysuckle Creek we still had to wait for 5 hours 38 minutes for the Moon to rise for us to see Challenger’s signal.
Inside the LM all the tensions, decisions and action of the descent suddenly evaporated. Both astronauts were stunned by the sudden stillness and silence; the only sound their breathing in their helmets. Even the loquacious Schmitt was staring out of the window, speechless. They had been so busy flying the spacecraft with Schmitt calling out numbers and occasional Houston comments there was little time to be aware of anything else.
Cernan recovered, took his hands off the thruster controls, and announced, “Okay Houston, the Challenger has landed!”
Cernan explained how he landed,
Schmitt said, “Gene landed the LM as if it were an everyday event.”
Cernan noticed that they had left the Earth almost at New Moon. As they stayed there the fraction of the Earth that was sunlit got less and less and it got to be a three quarters Earth and then a half Earth by the time they left lunar orbit to come home.
Once they had completed the post-landing procedures for an emergency lift-off, and a check on the spacecraft systems was satisfactory, they took off their helmets and gloves about 18 minutes after touchdown. A check showed they still had fuel for 117 seconds of flying left, so they could have had a tour around the valley before landing, but Cernan was intent on getting the spacecraft down quickly and safely.
Jokingly Schmitt asked, “Where’d you land? You never let me look outside at all. Hey, you can see the boulder tracks!” Schmitt could see long trails down the steep slopes of North Massif where dislodged boulders had rolled down, leaving strings of small craters where they had bounced in the air and crash landed on their way down.
Climbing down the ladder onto the lunar surface
The first EVA commenced four hours after landing, at 117:01:49 GET (1054:49 AEDT) with the de-pressurisation of the LM cabin. When the pressure had dropped low enough Cernan leaned down and pulled on the handle to open the hatch. The moment the hatch opened all the remaining oxygen rushed out taking anything lying around with it. The astronauts had to be careful to stow any loose items away before opening the hatch.
Cernan got down on his knees and pushed his feet through the hatch and began to crawl out backwards.
As in all the Apollo missions the LM landed early in the morning with the ladder facing to the west, therefore it was in shadow throughout the landing activities. This time there was no MESA TV camera to record the first steps; it was sacrificed for more fuel for extra hover time. It wasn’t until the Rover camera came on line that Earthlings could see what was going on.
Cernan climbed down onto the lunar surface at 117:11:09 GET (1104:09 AEDT) and announced,
He looked around at the looming mountains, giant boulders, landslides, and craters. Though there was no sign of a green blade of grass, an insect, an animal or a cloud, he had a comfortable feeling of belonging. Then to his satisfaction he found they had landed next to the crater he had called Punk, after his daughter.
As Schmitt crawled backwards onto the porch Cernan was exploring around the LM,
Showing their confidence in the mission equipment, neither John Young in Apollo 16, or Cernan collected contingency samples.
Cernan wrote, “Learning how to walk was like balancing on a bowl of Jell-O, until I figured out how to shift my weight while doing a sort of bunny hop.”
Cernan was excited to see that the soil glittered with what seemed like millions of tiny diamonds, but geologist Schmitt joined him and blew the magic away when he told him they were specks of glass, “…like a vesicular, very light-coloured porphyry of some kind; it’s about ten or fifteen percent vesicles.”
Officially the Earth spans 2º of the lunar sky.
In his book Cernan says he found the bright blue Earth kept drawing his gaze away from the colourless surface around him. He felt it was the most spectacular sight of the whole journey. However when he tried to get Schmitt to be awestruck too, he was taken aback by Schmitt’s blasé reaction.
I asked Schmitt what his reaction to Cernan’s comment was, “Well, I was very impressed with the Earth for three days on the way out to the Moon. While I spent those three days Gene may not have been feeling quite as good as I did, and didn’t spend as much time looking at the Earth. I had been looking at the Earth for three days, so for me, if I had seen one Earth I had seen ’em all.”
|Apollo 17 traverse map – by Hamish Lindsay.|
The First Excursion in the Lunar Rover
The Goldstone and Honeysuckle Creek complexes supported the first EVA and Rover excursion, Goldstone carrying the tracking until we picked up the signal at 118:39:00 GET (1232 AEDT) at Honeysuckle Creek Prime. The 26 metre diameter dish at Honeysuckle Creek’s Wing site and the new 64 metre dish (DSS43) at Tidbinbilla tracked the CSM. Parkes provided good television signals from the Rover. Goldstone dropped off at around 1710 AEDT and we were then the only contact with the astronauts until the end of the EVA.
The crew began to offload the Lunar Rover at 117:31:10 GET (1124 AEDT).
|Cernan trialling the LRV.
‘Hallelujah, Houston, Challenger’s baby is on a roll,’ called Gene Cernan. After unloading the Lunar Rover, Cernan took it for a spin before loading it with all the equipment required for their scientific exploring. Here he is racing past Jack Schmitt and his camera.
NASA photo AS17-147-22526, slightly colour-corrected.
The first television picture from the Rover was received at Houston at 118:14:05 GET (1207:05 AEDT).
Before setting up the flag and deploying ALSEP, at 118:19:06 GET (1212:06 AEDT) Cernan calibrated the Lunar Traverse Gravimeter. A unique experiment to Apollo 17 it was primarily used to make relative gravity measurements at a number of sites in the landing area to obtain information about the geological substructure. Readings were to be taken at the beginning and end of each excursion, and the instrument was not to be disturbed while measuring. All Cernan had to do was push a button marked GRAV to start the cycle and push another after 3 minutes to see the result. The crew read the results back to Earth. It was successful, the results suggesting that the basalt layer filling the valley was about 1 kilometre thick.
Raising the Flag
Then they began to assemble and set the Stars and Stripes flag flying for the TV camera at 118:20:58 GET (1213:58 AEDT).
They moved over to the rim of a small 1.8 metre crater and Schmitt pushed the lower half of the flagpole into the regolith before Cernan belted it in with his hammer about 16 times. The staff broke through a hard layer and penetrated about 40 centimetres into the surface. Cernan inserted the top half with the flag and they tried to smooth the cloth out. The flagpole was embedded firmly enough to resist the blast from the launch rocket and remains standing to this day.
They then took pictures of each other with the Earth in the sky behind the flag.
|Gene Cernan took this photo of Jack Schmitt with the American flag pointing at the Earth.
NASA photo AS17-134-20384. JSC via the Apollo Image Archive.
Setting up ALSEP
With the flag erected, Cernan moved over to the LM to unload the SEP (Surface Electrical Properties) experiment and put it onto the Rover, while Schmitt set up the Cosmic Ray Experiment. The SEP measured the dielectric properties of the subsurface, which are strongly affected by water or ice, and to work in conjunction with the orbiting radar sounder and other radar experiments. Signals from the transmitter that passed both above and below the lunar surface were picked up by a receiver mounted on the Rover, which also carried a tape recorder to record the data for return to Earth.
By 118:38:30 GET (1231:30 AEDT) Schmitt had begun to unload the ALSEP (Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments) package and set off singing “We’re off to see the Wizard.” Walking around small craters, Schmitt found carrying the 27 kilogram (lunar weight) ALSEP was harder than he expected because it was difficult holding the barbell with arms that were already tired, and he had to carry it over 90 metres to the chosen site. He said, “You didn’t know if you were ever going to recover and be able to use your hands again.”
The now familiar routine of exploring around the LM in the Rover was held up by Cernan breaking part of the Rover’s dust fender. As Cernan explained to me,
This was the first automotive repair on the moon.
Here are the maps taped together to form a makeshift fender – now on display in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, Washington. Photo: Colin Mackellar.
Here’s a view looking from underneath to show the lunar maps.
The ALSEP station was finally set up 180 metres west north west of the LM and was operational by 121:35:00 GET (1528:00 AEDT).
While Cernan was working beside the LM, Schmitt running back to the LM with some core stems, began to sing again, “I was strolling on the Moon one day…….”
Departure for Station 1
Forty minutes late with setting up the ALSEP experiment, the first excursion of 2.4 kilometres to the crater Emory was shortened by half. The two astronauts climbed aboard the Rover at 121:51:02 GET (1544 AEDT) and set off in a southerly direction for the first station. Originally the plan was to inspect the crater Steno, named after the 17th century Danish scientist Nicholas Stenonis, on the way to the similar crater Emory, a kilometre further on. But due to the late ALSEP deployment they only went as far as crater Steno.
On the way they stopped at a site selected for a Surface Electrical Properties (SEP) experiment.
Cernan found that it was hard to rubberneck and drive at the same time. Because they were travelling at up to 10 kilometres per hour and there were no tracks to follow, he had to watch their path for holes and small boulders very carefully, so he left most of the vocal describing to Schmitt.
While driving Cernan found craters of all sizes were scattered over the lurain and large boulders forced him to detour. The hazards were partially buried in the dust, which made it harder to spot them. To make matters worse the broken fender fell off again showering the Rover with thick dust. Cernan wrote, “It was like trying to look through a waterfall of dirt, and since I was also driving straight into the Sun, I could barely see where I was going. The wire mesh wheels collected some impressive dents when I sideswiped a few boulders.”
At Honeysuckle Creek, Test Equipment Supervisor Nevil Eyre monitors Rover television as Jack Schmitt sets up the Surface Electrical Properties Experiment.
Note the two Ampex VR600 2" video-tape recorders on the left and the older Ampex VR1100 on the right.
Polaroid photo scanned by Ed von Renouard.
|Arrived||122:04:02 GET||1557:02 AEDT|
|Departed||122:36:47 GET||1629:47 AEDT||Duration : 0h 32m 45s|
They stopped about 150 metres from the 610-metre diameter Steno Crater, and began working on a small blocky-rimmed 20-metre diameter crater, nearly 4 metres deep.
Schmitt found that he had trouble getting his gloved hand around the handle of the hammer, so, as Cernan was bigger and stronger with longer arms, he usually carried and used it. Cernan, “You had to hold onto the hammer and that meant you had to squeeze your fingers against the pressure of the gloves. After you did that for a while your hand and your forearm muscle would get sore, so you would have to take a rest.”
At Station 1 the two astronauts spent their time taking photographs and collecting rock and soil samples and getting used to working with each other in the lunar environment. Due to lack of time no core samples were taken. They found that the blocks on the rim of this crater were the same as the landing site.
On the way back home they stopped briefly to drop off a seismic profiling charge 600 metres from the LM, before they reached a site on the opposite side of the LM from the ALSEP, where they deployed the Surface Electrical Properties (SEP) experiment at 122:51:02 GET (1644:02 AEDT). Schmitt jogged back to the LM while Cernan drove the Rover back.
The first Rover excursion was a bit frustrating for an enthusiastic Jack Schmitt. He had wanted to get out and do some serious geology, but, by the end of the first day, he was concerned that, if he and Cernan had to leave early for some reason, they would take home very little information about the geology of Taurus-Littrow. At the ALSEP site and, then, at their one geology stop, they had collected samples of coarse-grained basalt which, undoubtedly, represented the top layers of the bedrock that underlay the soil. However, they hadn’t seen or collected any rocks that might be representative of the deeper bedrock, or of the Massifs, therefore, the site was not yet well characterized.
Arriving back at the LM at 123:16:15 GET (1709:15 AEDT), dirty and exhausted, the crew brushed themselves down with a big brush hanging beside the ladder. The two astronauts found they were startled by discarded plastic foam packing suddenly exploding because of the sunlight heating the internal trapped air bubbles and building up the pressure.
After entering the LM and the cabin was re-pressurized at 124:13:42 GET (0106:42 spacecraft time; 1806:42 AEDT), just over 33 minutes behind the flight plan, while Madrid were tracking. The first EVA lasted 7 hours 11 minutes 53 seconds. The distance travelled in the Rover was 3.3 kilometres; vehicle drive time was 33 minutes, and 14.3 kilograms of samples were collected. Cernan noted the backs of his hands were blistered, “….with a fiery red rawness. My fingers felt almost broken and I had to flex them to see if they still worked.”
At Honeysuckle Creek, Ed von Renouard snapped this photo of John Vanderkly (on left) and Brian Hale in the Recorders section, not long after Apollo 17s first EVA. It is 128:57:52 Flight Plan GET, or 10:50:53pm AEDT, just 22 minutes before LOS.
On the Moon, Cernan and Schmitt are settling down to sleep.
At 129:02:00 GET (2255:00 AEDT) Cernan called down, “Joe, we’re asleep. There’s no need to answer. See you in the morning.”
They slept in hammocks strung in an X shape, Schmitt’s stretched across the bottom and Cernan’s stretched across the top, over the ascent engine cover, with the space suits under him. Both were dog tired. Cernan had trouble falling asleep, listening to the hum of the environmental systems. At one stage he reached up and pulled away the nearest shade to look out and saw that the motionless flag still glistened in the sunshine, and the Earth still dominated the coal black sky. He was very aware of the deathly stillness outside the spacecraft.
Above them, Evans was already 5 hours into a sound sleep, in his 21st orbit.
|DAY 7||Lunar Stay Day 2||
Wednesday 13 December 1972
|EVA 2||Start : 140:35:06 GET||1028:06 AEDT|
|End : 148:12:02 GET||1805:02 AEDT||Duration : 7h 36m 56s|
|LM/LRV 2-way||1706. 3-way 2138||2-way duration: 4h 32m|
|HSKX||Orbit 28||Orbit 34|
|CSM 2-way:||1403. 3-way: 2157||2-way duration: 7h 54m|
|LM 2-way||2138||Handover to MAD: 14/0008||2-way duration: 2h 30m|
|DSS43||Orbit 28||Orbit 34|
THE SECOND EXCURSION
They were woken up at 136:55:00 GET (1348 Spacecraft time December 12; 0648 AEDT) after an 8 hour break by Capcom Gordon Fullerton playing Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.”
Fullerton and Schmitt were both undergraduates at the California Institute of Technology, and it was traditional for students to wake everyone up on the mornings of the final examinations by playing the “Ride of the Valkyries” at full volume.
Young came on the microphone and detailed how they had worked out a fix for the broken Rover fender before they began breakfast and the day’s activities. The second EVA began 80 minutes late, with cabin depressurisation at 140:35:06 GET (1028:06 AEDT). Madrid was just ending their track and Goldstone was well into their tracking period. Schmitt was hoping that when they depressurised the LM all the dust they brought in from the day before was sucked out, but Cernan announced, “There goes a lot of junk. Sure wish it would clean the dust out. But it isn’t. It’s cleaning everything else out.” The dust had settled down between the cracks in the fitted floor, and the astronauts found it impossible to clean it out.
The astronauts, particularly Schmitt, found the second day was more exciting than the first because they were going to be doing some useful geology. Schmitt commented that climbing onto the surface of the Moon wasn’t as adrenaline pumping as launch, Trans Lunar Injection, Lunar Orbit Insertion, Power Descent Initiation, landing, lift-off from the lunar surface and Trans Earth Injection, but he agreed, “Training is a great suppressor of adrenaline.”
Cernan admitted the first time he climbed out his adrenaline was on a high, but the second time he was more calm and collected, confirming his first day wasn’t his imagination, “It wasn’t one of those heart-pounding things, but it was still a little unbelievable that I was actually there. The first day was almost literally like walking in a dream the whole time; the second day you could look around and begin to appreciate a little more where you were and prepare to be a little more productive…….and we could begin enjoying ourselves.”
The Rover’s TV camera was switched on at 140:45:00 GET (1038 AEDT). Madrid had dropped over the horizon so only Goldstone monitored the events on the lunar surface as the astronauts prepared for their second excursion in the Rover.
As he bounced onto the lunar surface Cernan announced: “Okay, Houston. On this fine Tuesday evening, as I step out on the plains of Taurus-Littrow, Apollo 17 is ready to go to work.” It was just after 1730 spacecraft (Houston) time.
Schmitt, looking out from the porch, agreed as they both laughed, “Funny, there’s not a cloud in the sky. Except on the Earth.”
Schmitt was aware that everyone had underestimated distances on the Moon’s surface, so he asked for the ground to be prepared to measure the length of his shadow so he could be more accurate in estimating distances, It always looked a lot shorter than it really was.
After various minor maintenance jobs, the first task was to attach the new fender of four plasticised maps with clamps cannibalised from the optical alignment telescope lamp.
As Cernan stuck the new fender over the top of the wheel and overlapped it with the remaining bit of the original fender he commented, “Hope this thing gets stiff. It’s just a flapper. Sure isn’t stiff like I want it to be.”
At 141:19:00 GET (1112 AEDT) Schmitt grabbed his camera and hopped the 140 metres over to the SEP (Surface Electrical Properties) experiment site to check it out and take some photographs.
Five minutes later Cernan drove from the LM to pick up Schmitt: “I’m on the way…on the way, Jack.”
Departure for Station 2
Running about 80 minutes behind the planned schedule in the Flight Plan, the Rover departed for Camelot and Station 2 at 141:31:43 GET (1124:43 AEDT), only tracked by Goldstone until at Honeysuckle Creek we joined them at 1327. The aim was to get to Station 2 at Nansen, nearly 8 kilometres away, as quickly as possible as this leg was the most demanding of all the excursions in the Apollo program. They set off on a heading of 260° at their maximum speed of 11 kilometres per hour, Schmitt dropping off three seismic explosive charges as they began their journey.
The experts on the ground wanted to be sure that assigning the crater such a high priority was justified, and Parker reminded them of the distance limit of being able to walk back in case the Rover failed to proceed, or one of the suits failed. There was no guarantee that the blocks would be visible from beyond the rim, but it would be nice to confirm their presence.
As they bounced along the crater riddled surface the scenery ahead was spectacular – clear and sharp as there was no atmosphere. On Earth one would probably take some deep breaths to enjoy the pristine fresh air, but here on the Moon it was just more of the pure oxygen they had had all along. Cernan had to dodge around boulders, holes and craters, which slowed them down quite a bit. As they were driving down sun the craters were hard to see. Cernan: “I’ll tell you, it takes all your time to drive though. You look around and you’re in a hole.”
Cernan explained that being the driver you knew when you were going to turn and could anticipate manoeuvres, whereas the passenger had to hang on unaware of what was coming next.
They crested a rise and Schmitt called: “We’ve got the………oooh, and there’s Camelot.”
They passed about 140 metres south of Camelot and Station 5, heading west. Once past Camelot the lurain changed. Schmitt: “The total block population has changed. Once we get away from the rim of Camelot the block frequency is quite a bit smaller. It’s down, maybe to less than 1 percent of the surface.”
As they approached Horatio on their right, Cernan announced: “Horatio has got to be…….there’s Horatio, right there.”
Horatio had layering in its walls that suggested the subfloor was overlaid by a blanket of regolith 18 to 30 metres thick.
Once past Horatio and the blocks thinned out they entered a shallow depression flat enough for Cernan to press the accelerator to the floor: “We’re climbing, Jack. Because I’ve been full bore most of the time, and all I can get out of it is 10 clicks (kilometres per hour); and when I decelerate, she decelerates in a hurry.”
Cernan still had to concentrate hard on where they were going; flying over crests hoping there were no unseen holes or rocks on the other side, and swerving around any in their path. He was very aware the Rover’s clearance was only 36 centimetres. It looked as though their heading of 260° was taking them directly to their target of Station 2. Cernan left any geological descriptions to Schmitt. They crossed Tortilla Flat until they became aware of the bulk of South Massif beginning to fill their visors. They began to drive over a light mantle, which at its periphery was just a thin veneer of finely grained material.
The astronauts became interested in boulders they could see had rolled down steep slopes, leaving a long trough behind. By sampling boulders at the bottom, they were hoping to get samples of rock from higher up the mountain.
They had to zig-zag up the 30° slope until finally they crested a rise to descend into a broad trough below South Massif. They had arrived at Station 2, about 80 metres above the valley floor.
Because the bracket holding the Hassleblad to his suit had come loose, Schmitt had to hang onto the camera most of the trip, and keeping a grip against the pressure of the suit was very tiring. By the time they reached Station 3 fatigue began to affect Schmitt’s performance.
As they closed in to the base of the South Massif (2,300 metres altitude), its summit elevation had climbed to an angle of about 25º above them, and the bulk of the mountain started to fill their sky. They noticed the Earth was getting closer to the top, and realized if they couldn’t see it if it went behind the mountain they would lose their direct communications to Goldstone. Cernan commented, “What was really impressive about the Massifs was how massive they were; they were so massive they overpowered you. Visually they weren’t overly impressive – they didn’t have cliffs and abrupt breaks and snow-cover you see in the Rockies; but they were massive, jumbo mountains.”
|STATION 2||NANSEN. by South Massif – farthest west|
|Arrived||142:41:30 GET||1234:30 AEDT|
|Departed||143:47:25 GET||1340:25 AEDT||Duration : 1h 5m 55s|
After 70 minutes of driving at an average speed of 7.5 kilometres per hour they arrived at geology Station 2 by the crater Nansen (named after Fridtjof Nansen, the Norwegian Arctic explorer), 7.9 kilometres directly west of the LM, or 9.1 kilometres distance actually travelled.
Nansen itself was more of a depression than a crater, part of a trench along the base of the mountain, which seemed to have been partially swamped by an avalanche. Schmitt was very pleased to see a number of boulder tracks leading away from the trench. The South Massif was tan-grey on its flank, but where the slope shallowed near the summit there were blue-grey outcrops from which boulders had rolled, many ending up at Nansen. The Station 2 site was among a cluster of rocks 90 metres east of Nansen. The object of the visit was not for the crater itself, but the bright mantle that covered its near-massif half completely, and its north east half partly.
After setting up the TV, the first job was to get rid of all the dust they had collected on the trip so far. As soon as he could Schmitt headed for the nearest boulders. The first one, about a metre high, they called Boulder 1.
They decided to roll a boulder downhill, so Cernan warned Schmitt: “Lookout Jack,” before pushing it with his right foot. It rocked forward and fell back. Cernan gave it a harder shove and it turned over twice, reaching Schmitt who kicked the rock again but it stopped.
Schmitt scraped soil about 4 centimetres deep from under where the rock had been sitting and poured it into a sample bag. The geologists are always keen to get samples that haven’t been exposed to the Sun’s solar wind.
Nansen’s rocks proved to be breccias of various types – the more they looked the more variety of colour and clast size they found – there were solid rocks and clods of regolith that looked like rocks until they were handled. One of the fragments of rock from this visit turned out to be one of the oldest dated rock ever sampled on the Moon, dated at 4.6 billion years, plus or minus 0.1 billion years.
Honeysuckle Creek joined Goldstone tracking the Rover as it was about to leave Nansen and heard Cernan call,
“Okay, Bob, we’re ready – we’re rolling.” When they left Station 2 at Nansen after a 66 minute stay, Cernan and Schmitt had completed one of the longest excursion stops on the Moon.
As they started off Schmitt decided to summarise their findings at Station 2:
Cernan commented that this ride to Station 2 and back has stayed clear in his mind, “Because of the really spectacular terrain, and driving the Rover and riding on it was really a challenge and was really fun. The one-sixth gravity just did not hold the Rover to the ground very well. You always bounced around a lot, and if you had any speed, that just aggravated the bounce and if you were going downhill and you had to turn left or right, the tendency of the Rover to spin or roll was pretty great. It was not your ordinary trip to the Moon. It’s a shame that the TV pictures and still pictures don’t really give a full appreciation of how steep some of those rolling hills were in this valley.”
At Station 2 a traverse gravimeter experiment reading was measured, samples scooped up, and photography taken.
The trip to Station 3 was pretty straightforward with no specific crater to drive to. Any crater that would seem to have excavated the base of the scarp would do. There was a brief stop further north on the rim of Nansen to collect samples, take photos, and take a Gravimeter reading at what became known as Station 2A.
|STATION 2A||Scarp by South Massif|
|Arrived||143:52:59 GET||1345:59 AEDT|
|Departed||144:05:02 GET||1358:02 AEDT||Duration: 0h 12m 03s|
Before they stopped Schmitt took a panoramic photo of the scene, commenting that none of the craters in the light mantle appear to show bedrock – all seemed to be instant rock craters. Cernan offered to change the target stop.
Because they were taking a reading without putting the Gravimeter on the lurain, Cernan tried to level the Rover as much as possible. Both astronauts had to get off the Rover for the reading, and collected samples.
They left Station 2A and continued in a north easterly direction across the Lee-Lincoln scarp. Mysterious mare, or wrinkle, ridges were of particular interest to the geologists. Were they volcanic flows, swellings over subsurface intrusions, purely tectonic folds, or perhaps something else? After the mission many geologists tackled this area.
According to Don Wilhelms in his book To a Rocky Moon it has been generally agreed that most ridges, including Lee-Lincoln, resulted from shortening of the mare surface area caused by subsidence of mascon maria. In this case Mare Serenitatis sank within its basin, and the basalts near the surface were compressed and pushed into Taurus-Littrow Valley and into the North and South Massifs.
|STATION 3||LARA and BALLET CRATERS|
|Arrived||144:28:38 GET||1421:38 AEDT|
|Departed||145:05:56 GET||1458:56 AEDT||Duration : 38m|
The Rover moved on to Station 3, by the 500 metre wide crater Lara, named after the heroine of the film ‘Dr Zhivago’. Schmitt was naming features from his recent reading material. Cernan parked the Rover with a heading of 43°, 15 metres out from the rim of the first crater.
Station 3 was on the north east rim of Lara, which is deformed by the Lee-Lincoln scarph and covered by the light mantling material, the main objective of the visit.
Plans were changed to save time. Mission Control decided to split the two astronauts tasks with Cernan taking a core sample and a gravity meter reading while Schmitt took a series of pan photographs and some surface samples.
Cernan had a successful core drilling attempt, belting the 42 centimetre long tubes into the surface around 5 centimetres a stroke.
Pulling the tube out of the surface, Cernan noted the tip was full of fragments of rock and clods of dark regolith. He pointed the end of the tube at the TV camera so the eager scientists in the back room of Mission Control could see the individual pebbles and regolith clods jammed into the core.
Both astronauts found their jobs much harder working solo. Schmitt explains: “With two of us working together, bagging samples was fairly easy; but it was a lot harder solo. You hold the bag in one hand, and somehow or other get your scoop out over it so that you can dump the sample in it. It’s made all the harder because you’re moving your arms against the pressure in the suit while gripping both the bag and scoop.” By the end of the last EVA he learned to pick up samples more efficiently.
While Cernan was packing his core samples Schmitt set off to explore the crater’s rim to collect rock fragments. He brought back 15 rocks some of which were of the blue-grey type that almost certainly came off the outcrop on the South Massif. Cernan noticed that Schmitt was having trouble dropping and picking up samples, seeing him bending down on his knees, rocking about and flailing his arms around trying to recover.
His antics were also noticed back in Houston.
A bit later, Parker told Schmitt: “And be advised that the switchboard here at MSC (Manned Spacecraft Center, Houston) has been lit up by calls from the Houston Ballet Foundation requesting your services for next season.”
As a consequence of this little episode the crater was called Ballet Crater.
Schmitt told me his version of this episode,
At Station 3 another traverse gravimeter reading was obtained, more samples collected, and photographs taken.
The Parkes Radio Telescope picked up the Rover’s signal at the end of the visit to Station 3. At Honeysuckle Creek we had already been tracking for 1 hour 26 minutes.
Although they had originally planned to stop for 45 minutes at Lara, after only 38 minutes the astronauts set off on a bearing of 69°, heading towards the early morning Sun. They couldn’t see Shorty, as it was hidden by the rolling lurain, but they knew it was 2.6 kilometres away to the north-east.
They were bouncing down a deep valley, able to see tracks in the massif slopes left by giant boulders that had been dislodged and rolled down into the valley, and to the west an 80 metre high scarp. Shortly after moving off Schmitt saw a 3 metre boulder standing all on its own so they detoured over to have a closer look.
After photographing the boulder they pressed on, pausing to collect samples without getting off the Rover. Next they came across a deep 15 metre crater with a blocky rim.
|Arrived||145:22:57 GET||1515:57 AEDT|
|Departed||145:59:03 GET||1552:03 AEDT||Duration : 36m 6s|
Shorty, 110 metres across, was named after a legless San Francisco wino character in Richard Brautigan’s novel ‘Trout Fishing in America.’ It is a small impact crater punched through the light coloured material left by an avalanche of debris from South Massif. Schmitt commented that Station 4 was a lot more exciting visually than Lara at Station 3. They found that it was as dark as the photographs from orbit indicated.
Station 3 was a lot of hard work, this Station turned out to be fun. He started out describing what he could see:
The panorama taken by Gene Cernan at Station 4 – assembled by Colin Mackellar from NASA images AS17-137-21005 to AS17-137-21016, courtesy of the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal.
The orange soil was actually microscopic glass beads, tinted by Titanium, low in silica caused by an impact, not by volcanism. Schmitt could see the orange through the regolith, but it became more obvious after being stirred up. “I’ve got to dig a trench, Houston.”
Cernan finished at the Rover while Schmitt took his panoramic photo, then dug a trench across the orange soil: ‘Okay, Bob, I’ve trenched across the trend of the orange. There is light grey material on either side.”
Cernan joined Schmitt and looked into the trench: “Oh, man, that’s incredible…..”
The boffins in the Backroom decided they wanted a double length core sample, so Cernan began hammering his core tubes down into the surface, meeting surprising resistance. Luckily bringing the core back up proved relatively easy.
Schmitt: “The central portion of the zone actually has a crimson hue, or a red hue. Outside of that it’s orange. And outside of that, it’s grey. The bottom of the core is very black compared to anything we’ve seen,” indicating they had driven the core right through the orange layer. The black, more a very dark bluish grey, layer was mostly beads of crystallised glass of the same composition as the orange, but with a different cooling history. The orange glass is billions of years old, but Shorty is only millions of years old. Volcanic materials were sampled on the Moon, but no volcanic craters.
Parker: “And after the core, we’d like for you to go over and sample some of the big rocks there on the rim, if you could very quickly. That’ll be the next order of priority after that.” They were running out of time.
But not to forget lonely Ron Evans in the Command Module, still spinning around the Moon on his 29th orbit. When Evans appeared from behind the Moon his Capcom called up: “While you’re doing your pre-sleep checklist, you might be interested that at Shorty the surface crew found some very, very orange soil – a great deal of it…..Jack’s kind of like a boy at Christmas time. I’ll tell you, a little kid at Christmas time on that one.”
When told about the orange soil, Evans studied the lunar surface more intently, and decided he could see areas with orange tints, including around Shorty. Cernan comments, “I was concerned that Ron (Evans) was being influenced by the power of suggestion, but when we got back into orbit, I ate my thoughts because we really did see areas that you could definitely define as orange.”
While Cernan prepared the core sample, Schmitt went over to the boulder. It was partly buried and so eroded it was falling apart. Schmitt was able to break pieces off with his gloved hand.
Using his Super 8mm movie camera, Honeysuckle Creek Video Tech Ed von Renouard filmed segments immediately before and after the orange soil is discovered.
Watch carefully and you can see the reflection of Ed holding his camera.
As Ed Fendell in Houston commands the Rover TV camera to pan to the right, at 1:19 we see Gene Cernan completing his still photography panorama. That panorama is assembled above at the beginning of this section.
After 36 minutes at Shorty, as they prepared to leave, Cernan warned: “Okay, Jack, I’m going to make a very sharp turn here, because I don’t want to go down that hill (into the crater).
At Station 4 the usual traverse gravimeter experiment was tried, the endless samples with a trench gathered, and a double-core tube inserted in the regolith, with photography.
The astronauts drove 1.5 kilometres from Shorty to Victory Crater on a heading of 90° though, as they were driving directly into the Sun, Cernan zig-zagged to ease the glare in their eyes. Victory Crater is a vee shaped set of three craters commemorating British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Conversation eased off as both were pleased to have a few moments breather after the emotional pressure and frenzy of Shorty.
While driving along and thinking back to the orange soil at Shorty, Cernan asked Houston:
They stopped twice at Victory Crater to scoop up samples before arriving at Camelot to park just outside the sharp edged field of rocks on the southern rim.
|Arrived||146:25:15 GET||1618:15 AEDT|
|Departed||146:55:58 GET||1648:58 AEDT||Duration : 30m 43s|
Cernan described to me what the lunar scene looked like,
Cernan was also very conscious of the rotation of the Earth while watching it from the Moon over a period of time. Over hours you could see the seas and continents passing by, usually under clouds. He marvelled there was nothing holding the planet up – it was just suspended there in front of him. Schmitt was very aware of the bright Australian deserts in sunlight.
After a 30 minute stay at Camelot, the two astronauts piled aboard the Rover and began heading home to the Lunar Module.
Most of the boulders seemed to be partially buried, a few were sitting on top. Later Cernan said they had to watch their step in the cluttered boulder field of Camelot. They were hopping around between rocks and boulders and they could easily have tripped over a 30 centimetre high rock. They certainly wouldn’t want to fall onto another rock, which could damage their suits.
At Station 5 a traverse gravimeter experiment was completed, and soil sampling and photography undertaken.
The crew arrived back home at the LM at 147:12:24 GET (1705:24 AEDT) and entered the cabin, just as Honeysuckle Creek punched the transmitter ON button to go two way. It was re-pressurized at 148:12:02 GET (0105:02am spacecraft time, 1805:02 AEDT) just over 2 hours behind the flight plan, Outside the LM the surface temperature had risen to 44°C.
The second extravehicular activity lasted 7 hours 36 minutes 56 seconds. The distance travelled in the lunar rover was 20.4 kilometres, vehicle drive time was 2 hours 25 minutes, and the crew collected 56 samples weighing 34.1 kilograms. They had taken 218 colour and 627 black and white photographs. These figures would become records that could not be beaten until a possible visit sometime in the future.
By their spacecraft clock it was 1:00am as they prepared for another rest period their arms felt heavy and weary, and their hands were raw and bleeding from the constant activity with the gloves. Luckily they had some hand lotion to soothe them. It had been a big day. Looking back, Cernan felt he enjoyed the second EVA more than the first. The first day seemed more like a dream as they explored the sights and sensations of walking on the Moon’s surface, and constantly checking everything. With the Rover operational and the ALSEP already set up they could concentrate on their Rover excursion. There was also more time to look around, and felt he appreciated being where he was much more.
Schmitt summed up the day with,
John Saxon, Operations Supervisor at Honeysuckle Creek particularly remembers,
At 152:25:00 GET (2218:00 AEDT) goodnights were exchanged as the astronauts settled down for an 8 hour rest/sleep period, well satisfied with the day’s events.
Above them Ron Evans was sleeping his way through his 33rd orbit.
|DAY 8||Lunar Stay Day 3||
Thursday 14 December 1972
|CSM Lunar Orbits 41 through 46
|EVA 3||Start : 163:32:48 GET||0925:48 AEDT|
|End : 170:47:56 GET||1640:56 AEDT||Duration : 7h 15m 08s|
|TV through HSK from AOS at 1404 to 1637 AEDT||Duration : 2h 23m 00s|
|TV through Parkes from 1600 to 1637 AEDT||Duration : 0h 37m 00s|
|Total mission EVA time: 44.17 man hours – a new record.|
2-way duration: 6h 15m
Handover to MAD:15/0043
2-way duration: 5h 56m
2-way duration: 1h 20m
THE THIRD EXCURSION
With Madrid and Goldstone tracking, at 160:25:04 GET (1318:04 spacecraft time 13 December, 0618:04 AEDT), after a 15 hour 30 minute rest period in the LM, an hour longer than scheduled, Houston played the Texas Aggie War Hymn, “Light my Fire” of the Texas University of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts as wake–up music. As it was founded as an agriculture school, the students were known as “Aggies.”
Both astronauts slept through the rest period, Cernan 6 hours of half restless and half good sleep periods, while Schmitt had 6 hours of good sleep. The spacecraft was in excellent shape:
The last day was planned to explore the North Massif and Sculptured Hills areas in the north-eastern part of the Taurus-Littrow valley. As the crater at Shorty seemed to be from volcanic activity, it was hoped that Van Serg might be volcanic too.
Cernan found that while the pressure was at 34.5 kPa you might as well have been in a block of concrete, but dropping it to 3.7 psi (25.5 kPa) gave him a lot more flexibility to bend down to open the hatch. When you’re bending down you’re literally straining against the suit, so he didn’t want to bend until his suit pressure was down, also, there was no point in getting down until the cabin pressure was low enough to open the hatch. He found he had to hold the hatch open against whatever pressure was there; if he didn’t, any residual pressure would slam it shut again.
The cabin was de-pressurized at 163:32:48 GET (0925:48 AEDT) ready for the last EVA, nearly 53 minutes later than planned. As Cernan stepped onto the lunar surface for his third day on the Moon, he announced,
At Honeysuckle Creek it was 0925 AEDT on Thursday morning, with 4 hours 38 minutes 12 seconds to go to AOS. Then Cernan spoke to himself.
They found it was easier to look towards the east now, as the blinding glare from the Sun was less as it had risen to a height of 33° in the sky. In Houston, Parker tossed in a random comment: “And 17, if you guys are interested, your shadows will be 8 feet [2.4 metres] long tonight.”
Schmitt answered: “How many metres is that, Bob?”
Cernan laughed: “I’ll draw it out …….... I’ll step it out for ya....you can measure it!”
By now the astronauts were dog-tired and their hands were raw and bleeding, with blisters on their knuckles. It felt like their fingernails had been driven back into the joints. Cernan commented that it took over three weeks for the lunar dust to grow out of the quick of his fingernails. All they could do was try to soothe them with hand lotion. Neither of them were going to admit any discomfort in case there were repercussions from the doctors to threaten the third EVA. Cernan discarded his cover gloves for the third excursion. Unable to scratch their noses in the suits, Cernan had a little strip of velcro installed in the helmet so they could reach across and relieve any itch. During the rest time they managed to fix Schmitt’s loose camera mount, so he had an easier time on this excursion.
The TV was switched on at 163:55 GET (0948 AEDT) and the third Rover excursion began at 164:16:31 GET (1009:31 AEDT) as they headed for the SEP (Surface Electrical Property Experiment) site with Madrid and Goldstone tracking their signal. Cernan wrote: “We had breakfast, dressed, and set off for work in our car,” but of course the circumstances were rather different to the earthbound city commuter.
DEPARTURE FOR TURNING POINT ROCK AND STATION 6.
At 164:22:36 GET (1015:36 AEDT) they set off almost due North for a 3 kilometre drive to Turning Point Rock at the base of North Massif, and then turned east to run diagonally up a 20° slope a further 400 metres to Station 6 at the base of North Massif, passing Jones Crater and Henry Crater (named after Prince Henry the Navigator).
Looking up at North Massif they noticed the boulders, some seemed house-sized, were lying on the lower flanks, and the boulder tracks zigzagged across the slopes, instead of running straight down hill as they did at South Massif. By 1034 AEDT they were driving between Henry and Locke craters full bore at 12 kilometres per hour and approaching Turning Point Rock, rearing 7 metres out of the regolith. At 164:44:42 GET (1037:42 AEDT) they stopped beside it for Jack to scoop up a sample.
They stopped to take a sample before peeling off to the north east to drive 400 metres diagonally up a 20° slope to Station 6. Cernan pointed out that they had to be careful driving across a steep slope because if you hit a bump or big stone travelling at any speed you could become unstable and flip over.
|STATION 6||SPLIT BOULDER or TRACY’S ROCK|
|Arrived||164:51:24 GET||1044:24 AEDT|
|Departed||166:02:10 GET||1155:10 AEDT||Duration : 1h 10m 46s|
As they reached the lower slopes of the North Massif the terrain became very steep with little basaltic lava beneath them. They arrived at Station 6 about 76 metres above the valley floor, 3.1 kilometres from the LM, and parked the Rover beside a big split boulder, nearly as high as the LM. Beside Tracy’s Rock, near the base of North Massif, Cernan was unable to find a level spot to park the Rover, so he parked across the slope, heading just south of east
Both had difficulty getting off the Rover due to the steep slope. Cernan had to climb out uphill, whereas Schmitt had to drop off downhill. The slope where the Rover was parked was estimated to be about 20°; the Rover was designed to handle up to 25°.
Cernan with a chuckle: “I’ve got to go uphill!”
The astronauts were stunned by the view from Station 6, a broad panorama of the valley. Cernan commented, “Here we could see everything – Challenger, the Scarp, the Sculptured Hills, and everything. It was fantastic.”
Station 6 was a huge boulder split into five pieces that seemed to have rolled about 1,200 metres down the mountainside, dropping vertically by more than 500 metres, and broken into several pieces about 22 million years ago. They estimated there was at least a metre between the two bigger pieces. The five large fragments were once a single boulder about 6 metres high by 10 metres long and 18 metres thick. Schmitt immediately began analysing the pieces and probable history of the rock, while Cernan got busy with his camera. The rock turned out to be an impact melt fine-matrix breccia. Luckily they took ample samples – if they had only taken a chip off one end and moved on, they would have missed the real story the rock had to tell.
|Split Boulder, later known as Tracy’s Rock, at Station 6.
Jack Schmitt is about to walk behind the rock, which has rolled down the steep side of North Massif leaving a 450 metre furrow and broken into five pieces. It is a breccia, or rock made of fragments of other rocks. The Lunar Rover is parked on a slope on the right. Behind the Rover, about 8 kiometres away, is South Massif.
The Lunar Module, arrowed, is visible just to the right of the peak of the rock.
NASA photos AS17-140-21495 and 6, combined by Colin Mackellar. (Note: Some of the features closest to the camera are repeated, due to a slight change of position between the two exposures.) Scans: JSC via the Apollo Image Archive.
|Jack Schmitt stands on the other side of Tracy’s Rock, at Station 6.
Here’s an enhanced image, bringing out shadow detail and showing Jack’s face and Snoopy cap.
NASA photo AS17-146-22294. JSC via the Apollo Image Archive.
Here’s an enhanced portion of the above image, bringing out shadow detail and showing Jack’s face and Snoopy cap.
From NASA photo AS17-146-22294.
The rock didn’t have a name until after the mission. Cernan tells the story in the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal. Astronaut Alan Bean was painting a picture of the rock from a picture and wanted a story for it. Cernan said he would have printed his 9 year old daughter’s name in the dust if he had thought about it, and wrote it out on a piece of paper for Bean, who then put her name in where Cernan had scraped out a sample, visible in the photograph. [See the painting on Alan Bean’s website. – ed.]
Cernan was coming down across slope, caught a foot on a small ridge and fell on his hands and knees.
Schmitt immediately answered, “Don’t forget to dust your camera.” When asked by people to remind them to do something, Schmitt has a habit of reminding them there and then so he couldn’t be blamed for forgetting to remind them later.
They sampled some of the material from the split in the boulder, particularly looking for the north facing overhang, Schmitt reaching as far under the rock as he could.
Lunar dust was penetrating everything, slowing up their progress. Then the Rover’s make-shift fender fell off again.
Before they left the station Cernan called down an accident report, “Houston, we’ve got a couple of dented tyres.”
Seen from Station 6, the lonely Lunar Module Challenger, about 3.2 kilometres away, is dwarfed by the flanks of South Massif.
NASA photo AS17-139-21203. JSC via the Apollo Image Archive.
Although only 45 minutes was planned for this station, it was 1 hour 11 minutes before they set off for Station 7, 500 metres away just off the slopes of North Massif; about a 7 minute drive.
The steep slope troubled the astronauts as their Rover scooted along at an angle of 20°, Schmitt on the lower side. Schmitt: “…….. Ohhh, easy.”
The main task at Station 7 was to get a collection of fragments, along with some documentation. Apart from being a trained and experienced geologist, Schmitt handled the ‘scoop’, so he was primarily responsible for collecting the samples. Cernan had a stronger hand, so usually wielded the hammer to break fragments off boulders, usually guided by Schmitt.
After a 500 metre drive the Rover arrived at Station 7. Cernan called Houston; “Right in here. Right here to give you as much of a level spot as I can. That’s about as level a spot as I can find. I’m inside the slope of a crater, Bob.”
|Arrived||166:09:05 GET||1202:05 AEDT|
|Departed||166:31:09 GET||1224:09 AEDT||Duration : 22m 4s|
They left Station 7 at 166:31:09 GET (1224:09 AEDT), after a stop of 22 minutes 4 seconds.
SWP is a small crater named after the Science Working Panel that had set the program’s scientific objectives, and the two astronauts skirted around it heading for Cochise.
Schmitt, “No – I think it’s just you. People are always giving you static.”
They weren’t, they were about 350 metres north of Cochise, generally driving south-east. Cernan noticed that if they were in the Sun continuously for more than thirty minutes they could start to feel the Sun penetrating the suits.
They were already thinking of heading for the next station at a bearing of 238º. Parker reminded them,
|STATION 8||AT THE BASE OF THE SCULPTURED HILLS|
|Arrived||166:47:40 GET||1240:40 AEDT|
|Departed||167:35:33 GET||1328:33 AEDT||Duration : 47m 53s|
Two kilometres east of Station 7 they reached the Station 8 area, at the base of the Sculptured Hills and the easternmost point of the excursions. This meant they had completed exploring the whole valley. It was also the easternmost point of all the Apollo missions on the Moon.
As the astronauts hopped around Station 8 Parker called.
Schmitt found a rock, flipped it over with his boot and it started to roll towards the Rover, veered to the right and slowed up. Schmitt followed it and kicked it to keep it rolling. He muttered to himself, “Roll. Look I would roll on this slope, why don’t you?”
The rock landed in a hollow and stopped. Cernan joined Schmitt at the boulder as he scooped up some soil samples from under where the rock had been lying,
As he hit the boulder, Cernan felt the reverberation through his body, while Schmitt on the opposite side of the rock could feel the impacts through the ground and through his feet, almost like a small moonquake. The rock broke into three fragments and they collected one as Cernan announced, “Bag 564.”
Schmitt explained, “Yeah. The fragment got mixed with the local soil. I’m pretty sure that’s the bottom.”
Cernan tried more blows to break the rock into smaller pieces, one of them flying away, to be chased by Cernan, “That’s a good one. I’ll go get it with my tongs… that one I worked too hard to get!”
After the rock episode, Schmitt tried skiing, adopting a two-footed skiing stance and trying to hop from side to side and making skiing noises, “Shhh. Shhh. Shhh. Shhh. Shhh. Shhh. Whoo! Can’t keep my edges…… Shhhoomp. Shhhoomp. Little hard to get a good hip rotation.”
There was a discussion on the best way to move about in one-sixth gravity on the lunar surface.
Cernan decided it was time to have another go at fixing the fender,
The TV camera had to come off because Cernan had to get close to it to do his repair, and he didn’t want to interfere with the lens.
Three minutes later Cernan feels he has repaired the fender again,
Cernan and Schmitt had been working on the hillside, with the Rover parked angled into the hill with Cernan’s side slightly uphill. Getting ready to leave, Cernan jumped up to get into his seat in the Rover, fell short, and landed on his back, with his head downslope and – to make matters worse – lying next to the Rover so that, without Schmitt’s help, it would have been all but impossible for him to turn around and get his feet downslope.
Schmitt ignored Cernan’s rejection and helped him into a face-down position so that, with a little help from Schmitt pushing backwards on Cernan’s helmet, he was able to rotate back over his knees and onto his feet.
No specific spot had been nominated for Station 8. Lack of obvious geologic features and shortage of time meant hurrying through the activities and to put their hopes for sampling the Sculptured Hills on a rake sample. Two traverse gravity experiment readings were obtained, rake and trench samples were gathered and panoramic photography taken.
Leaving the north end of Station 8, they set off for Station 9 initially on a heading of 240º (southwest) towards South Massif and Bear Mountain. They were moving along at 10-12 kilometres per hour, but the fender repair was beginning to flap around, letting the dust from the wheel to fall on them.
At 167:43:00 GET (1336:00 AEDT) they came up on Crater Cochise. Cernan advised Houston,
At 167:51:11 GET (1344:11 AEDT) they set a course to make a position bearing of 234° at a distance of 2.1 kilometres from the LM, and Parker reminded Cernan, “And remember we talked about parking on the southeast rim.”
At this point they slowed down to pick their way through a boulder field, Cernan commenting, “With a wander factor of 50%, I had to drive 15 metres to go forward 10.”
They arrived at Station 9 at and parked the Rover on a heading of 330º on the rim of the Van Serg Crater.
|STATION 9||VAN SERG CRATER|
|Arrived||167:53:10 GET||1346:10 AEDT|
|Departed||168:49:25 GET||1442:25 AEDT||Duration : 56m 15s|
At Honeysuckle Creek we could not see the Moon until now, and didn’t pick up the astronauts until 168:11:00 GET (1404 AEDT) as they were exploring around the Van Serg crater.
Schmitt had named this crater after Harvard Professor Hugh McKinstry, who had used the pen name ‘Van Serg’ in a series of scientific satires.
Schmitt had trouble releasing his seat belt and Cernan went around to help him, noticing the fender repair was curled under, as well as all the fenders were warped a bit from heating in the Sun.
Listening to Schmitt singing this popular song, one has to remember that here were two isolated human beings, astronauts, spending 12 hours a day in a suit for three consecutive days, 370,000 kilometres from Earth, 3½ kilometres from the safety of the LM, inside a spacesuit only ten centimetres from instant death from the vacuum outside, and relying on only their picnic food, no food shops, behaving as though they were down in the local park on a sunny day. They were also relying on limited supplies of oxygen and fuel, switches, rocket motors, relays, and valves to work without fail to get them back home to Earth. Yet they said they only thought about their situation when they had to think about it. Cernan commented that the LM had never raised any concern about its reliability – the skin was so flimsy you could stick a pencil through it, and when they pressurized the LM after an EVA it expanded like an oil can, and one realized they were at the mercy of a little tin can with a few motors running and blowers blowing. No stoves, no toilets, no beds, no running water or shower or bath. There was nothing on the sterile Moon to sustain them for even a few seconds. And they were happy. As Schmitt observed, human beings and their adaptability is just unbelievable.
Gene Cernan on the north eastern rim of Van Serg Crater at Station 9.
This picture brings out the isolation of an Apollo astronaut – the nearest support 370,000 kilometres away on Earth, over 3 kilometres from the Lunar Module, and relying on a spacesuit and back pack with limited consumables, with instant death a mere 10 centimetres away. Yet they were singing, joking and laughing as though they were down at the local park. As Jack Schmitt commented, “Human beings and their adaptability is just unbelievable.”
NASA photo AS17-142-21811. JSC via the Apollo Image Archive.
Schmitt stood on the rim of the crater and looked down at the boulders lying on the bottom. He thought there’s a lot more crater there than you think there is.
Cernan joined him with, “Holey Smoley!” and went over the rim and picked up some rocky fragments that had flaked off with his tongs.
They didn’t find any orange soil. After half an hour the Capcom advised it was time to go,
Both astronauts agreed they were showing signs of tiredness at the point. Cernan thought it might have been a combination of the amount of work they did on the hillsides and three solid days of working without too much sleep. Cernan also later commented he felt the planners wanted an hour’s work in thirty minutes.
Station 9 turned out to be very young (at an estimated 4 million years) and made of rock the astronauts had trouble identifying beneath the dust. It turned out to be regolith breccia where an impact had hit a thick patch of regolith and the shock had formed a great deal of instant rock. A seismic profiling experiment explosive charge was set, two traverse gravimeter readings taken, samples were gathered, a trench dug, a double-core tube inserted in the regolith and photographs taken. In addition data was collected from the Surface Electrical Properties (SEP) experiment receiver.
They left Station 9 at 168:49:25 GET (1442 AEDT) bound for the LM, when Parker gave the boys some advice,
Just over 7 minutes after leaving Station 9, at 168:56:39 GET (1449:39 AEDT) they had the Rover bounding along at its highest speed.
Schmitt commented later, “You can push the Rover up to 10 to 12 clicks. But this one time going downhill we had it up to 18 kilometres per hour, and regretted it. And we were bouncing.” This speed of 18 kilometres per hour was the fastest anyone had driven on the Moon, and is the record.
After picking up some samples from the Rover as they drove along, at 169:03:25 GET (1456:25AEDT) they arrived at San Luis Rey crater, and Cernan called,
|The LM as viewed from the Rover.
NASA photo AS17-134-20457. JSC via the Apollo Image Archive.
|Gene Cernan took this photo of Jack Schmitt, with the crescent Earth above, towards the end of the EVA.
NASA photo AS17-134-20471. JSC via the Apollo Image Archive.
Return to the LM
They ended the rock hunt with a bit of fun by Cernan bounding down the last slope to the Rover with an exaggerated kangaroo hop while Schmitt tried to ski muttering “Schoosh – schoosh – schoosh.”
They were getting tired by this time with the exertion of three days of hard work, an emotional roll-a-coaster, and restless sleep periods. Tired as they were, they were reluctant to finish the EVA, aware it was going to be the very last one for Apollo.
Looking back, Schmitt decided, “This had to be our most physical day. We rode on the Rover for a solid hour getting out to Station 2 on the second day and, here, we only had fifteen or twenty minutes between demanding stations…”
Cernan joined in, “…and they were demanding stations. We hadn’t had a piece of level ground during this EVA until now, but we did want to drag it out as long as we could.”
At 169:14:33 GET (1507:33 AEDT) they picked up the biggest rock of the mission near the LM during those last moments. Schmitt decided to get off the Rover and use it to lean on while picking the rock up.
Apollo sample 70215, an 8.11 kilogram piece of fine-grained basalt, was the largest rock picked up by the Apollo 17 crew. Four display samples – with a total mass of about 300 grams – were cut from Sample 70215 and can be seen at the Smithsonian, at the International Space Hall of Fame in Alamogordo, New Mexico, at the Johnson Space Center, and as the centerpiece of a travelling NASA exhibition. Pieces of this rock were later put on public display and are the only pieces of the Moon that the public has ever been allowed to touch.
Apollo 17 Sample 70215 after transport to Earth.
Photo: NASA/JSC via the Lunar & Planetary Institute in Houston.
After a 28 minute 26 second drive from Station 9, the Rover pulled up at the LM site at 169:17:51 GET (1510:51 AEDT) and Cernan announced, “Okay Bob, I’m back at the LM.”
The astronauts began unloading the Rover, did some last minute tasks and prepared for departure.
THE GOODWILL ROCK
The astronauts had planned a short close-out ceremony before Cernan parked the Rover for the last time. Needing a rock for the ceremony, Schmitt reached down and picked up a sample rock which became Apollo 17 sample 70017, a 3 kilogram piece of coarse-grained basalt, now known as the Goodwill Rock.
About two minutes before Cernan began his speech there was a 2-way handover from Goldstone to Honeysuckle Creek, and the communications dropped out momentarily.
With the US flag behind them, Jack Schmitt at left, holds the rock in his right hand as Gene Cernan explains what they are doing.
Frame from the downlinked television.
Cernan and Schmitt set themselves up in front of the TV camera, Schmitt holding the piece of rock he had just picked up, and at 169:43:06 GET (1536:06 AEDT) Cernan began his speech,
Schmitt handed the fist-sized rock to Cernan, who continued,
Gene Cernan holds the Goodwill rock as Ed Fendell in Houston zooms the television camera in to give viewers a closer look.
Frame from Rover TV.
Nearly 500 pieces of this rock have been distributed to museums and researchers around the world, making it the most widely distributed of any lunar samples.
At 169:46:38 GET (1539:38 AEDT) Cernan uncovered a small plaque mounted on the ladder, “…to commemorate not just Apollo 17’s visit to the Valley of Taurus-Littrow, but as an everlasting commemoration of what the real meaning of Apollo is to the world,” and explained what was on the plaque.
The NASA Administrator, Dr James Fletcher, was standing by, and joined in with,
|Gene (left) and Jack and the plaque attached to the front landing gear of Challenger. Rover TV.|
|Jack Schmitt in what is probably the last photograph of an Apollo astronaut on the lunar surface.
NASA photo AS17-143-21941. JSC via the Apollo Image Archive.
Schmitt climbed inside the LM to clean up ready for departure, while Cernan drove the Rover to its parking spot east of the LM to video the lift-off. This final parking spot for the Rover was referred to as the VIP site, an association with the close-in viewing stands at Cape Canaveral launch complex reserved for Very Important Persons. Before setting off for the LM he knelt down and ran his gloved finger through the lunar dust to write his daughter Tracy’s initials, TDC, on the Moon’s surface.
As Cernan hopped his way back to Challenger he had time to think about the enormity of the situation he was in. He felt that every man and woman that contributed to the space program was at his side, that “these were the giants upon whose shoulders I stood as I reached for the stars.”
Capcom Bob Parker, looking at the Rover TV picture, said,
“we’re looking up to the Earth down here…”
Cernan took a last look at the Earth floating in the black sky above, grabbed the ladder, and wished he could share this moment with everyone back on his home planet. He felt that he was no longer just an Earthling, but had joined a new community now belonging to the far-reaching cosmos.
As Ed Fendell turned the TV camera to look at the LM, Cernan made his farewell to the Moon speech,
Cernan admitted later, back on Earth, that this short speech was made up on the spot, but the names of the spacecraft, America and Challenger, were not a coincidence but were carefully chosen and he wanted to include those names in his final words.
Cernan described his feelings of the moment to me,
After checking the seal they closed and locked the hatch at 170:44:46 GET (1637:46 AEDT); the cabin was re-pressurised at 170:47:56 GET (1640:56 AEDT), still about an hour behind the schedule. So ended the sixth and last Apollo exploration of the lunar surface. At Honeysuckle Creek we were privileged to witness the last moments of Earthlings on the surface of the Moon in the Apollo program.
Once the astronauts were connected to the LM’s environmental system they could take off and discard their Portable Life Support System (PLSS) back-packs. After weighing the samples, at 171:53:39 GET (1746:39 AEDT), during throwing out excess equipment, Schmitt grabbed Cernan’s PLSS with his gloved hands and pushed it through the hatch.
|A dusty Gene Cernan inside Challenger.
NASA photo AS17-145-22224 by Jack Schmitt. JSC via the Apollo Image Archive.
|Jack Schmitt inside Challenger after mankind’s last manned lunar expedition of the 20th century.
NASA photo AS17-134-20530 by Gene Cernan. JSC via the Apollo Image Archive.
They began a meal at 170:49:36 (1922:36 AEDT) and as they were running behind schedule answered a series of questions set by the back-room scientists at the same time. Finally, the lunar day ended with the astronauts climbing into their hammocks for a scheduled 8 hour rest at 175:20:50 GET (2114:20 AEDT). The astronauts’ boss, Deke Slayton, joined the conversation.
For Apollo 17’s visit to the Moon, the total time spent outside the LM was 22 hours 3 minutes 57 seconds, the total distance travelled in the Rover was 35.7 kilometres, vehicle drive time was 4 hours 29 minutes, and the collected samples totalled 110.52 kg. The farthest point travelled from the LM was 7.63 kilometres.
Schmitt summed up the three days with, “All the days were good – they were all great. Every day was new with new experiences. I don’t draw any comparison between them. Certainly there were important discoveries made indirectly on the first day through the experiments we deployed and then directly because of the actual human exploration that we undertook.
The astronauts were completely exhausted and slept well in the rest period before re-suiting and prepared for departure.
On Earth, Mission Control read a statement from President Nixon: “As Challenger leaves the surface of the moon we are conscious not of what we leave behind, but of what lies before us.”
It seems everybody remembers the first step on the Moon – not so many remember the last person to pull his boot off the surface of the Moon.
|DAY 9||Lunar Stay Day 4 and LM Lift-off||
Friday 15 December 1972
|CSM Lunar Orbits 53 through 58|
|LM Lift-off||188:01:37 GET||0954:37 AEDT|
|CSM/LM Docked||190:17:15 GET||1210:15 AEDT|
|LM ascent stage jettisoned||193:58:31 GET||1551:31 AEDT|
|LM ascent stage impact on lunar surface||195:57:21 GET||1750:21 AEDT|
ALSEPS 1, 4, 5
|Parkes was released from mission support with LM impact.|
At 183:29:59GET (0522:59 AEDT) the LM crew were awake and sang in unison to Gordon Fullerton at Houston, “Good morning to you. Good morning to you. Good morning, dear Gordy, good morning to you.”
As the music from “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss filled the airwaves, Fullerton responded, “Good morning Challenger, and thank you for the vocal rendition from the Moon, there.”
Hear the poem.
Hear Jack Schmitt reciting his Christmas poem from inside Challenger on the lunar surface.
It’s the week before Christmas – 900kb mp3
From the Public Affairs audio – courtesy of The Apollo Lunar Surface Journal.
In Mission Control the White team led by Gene Kranz had taken up their positions at 0453 AEDT to support the lunar liftoff. Kranz was facing his last moments as an Apollo Flight Director. He donned his famous white vest and tried to relish the moment, momentarily recalling old memories before plugging into the console. He and his team now had to get Apollo 17 off the Moon and safely docked with the CSM. Above the lunar surface, Evans in America was coming round in his 51st orbit and ready to greet his friends in the LM.
Because of slight deviations of the CSM orbit from the planned path, the lift-off was 1 minute 10 seconds early. The countdown proceeded smoothly until 10 minutes to go when the pyrotechnic valves were blown to pressurise the propulsion system. If a tank started to leak it would turn into an emergency liftoff, to take advantage of using as much of the propellant as possible. The flight controllers waited with baited breath until the call came, “Flight, ascent helium is GO – the system is pressurised, there are no leaks,” and Fullerton passed on the message, “Okay, Challenger – both tanks look good.” The count continued.
Hear the lunar liftoff sequence.
At 188:01:37 GET (0954:37 AEDT) Cernan flicked the yellow ignition switch, and the ascent stage of the Lunar Module shot out of the descent stage frame. Ed Fendell on the Rover camera controls in Mission Control tried to follow the rapidly moving spacecraft, keeping it in sight for 26 seconds, but it still beat him out of the top of the frame at the end.
Hot exhaust gases ripped into the lunar surface. Shredded gold foil from the descent stage glinted in the swirling cloud of grey dust shooting from under the engine bell housing. The stars and stripes whipped madly in the rocket’s exhaust, then relapsed into a permanent stillness as the little spacecraft rocket’s glare dwindled into the blackness above, to wink out. The dust instantly dropped and covered the site, to become a permanent monument to the last visit of the Alien Earthlings to the Moon. The Lunar Module had been on the surface of the Moon for 74 hours 59 minutes 40 seconds.
Right after lift-off, during LM pitch over, on Earth there was a momentary mix up as there was a station handover from Madrid to Goldstone, and two way lock was lost for about 4 minutes, during which time no voice was transmitted to the spacecraft from Houston and tracking data was lost. On board Challenger the crew suddenly heard a lot of loud static in their headphones, but were initially unaware of what had happened and that they were unable to hear Houston.
|Challenger’s ascent stage leaves the surface, and is followed by the Rover’s camera in motion preplanned by Ed Fendell in Houston.
In these frames from Rover TV, the colour of the ejecta is an artefact of the spinning RGB color wheel in the RCA camera.
A 7 minute 21 second burn was executed to enter an initial orbit of 89.8 x 16.8 kilometres, followed by several minor tweaking RCS rendezvous sequence manoeuvres.
About 18 minutes after launch, Cernan had his first view of the CSM just after they had passed through the darkness of the Moon’s shadow. Evans, in the CSM, was still in sunlight, but a few moments later he plunged into darkness and soon spotted the tracking light of the LM. By now they were 180.2 kilometres apart and closing, then at 188:51:37 GET (0955:37 AEDT) they both disappeared behind the Moon.
Public Affairs Commentary at 188:59GET.
Discusses comms dropout.
Challenger closes on America – 750kbMB mp3 / 2:20.
From the Public Affairs audio – courtesy Johnson Space Center.
RENDEZVOUS AND DOCKING.
By the time they had reappeared 45 minutes later they were only 1.3 kilometres apart and closing at 32.9 kilometres per hour. Cernan and Schmitt had their backs to the Moon, looking straight up at the CSM above them. When they were only 30.5 metres apart Cernan stopped his craft while Evans did a slow rotation of the CSM and they inspected each other, before docking occurred at 190:17:15 GET (1210:15 AEDT) at an altitude of 112.2 kilometres.
|View of the CSM during rendezvous.
NASA photo AS17-145-22261. JSC via the Apollo Image Archive.
|View of the LM during rendezvous.
NASA photo AS17-149-22859. JSC via the Apollo Image Archive.
|Gene Cernan is clearly visible in the previous image. Here is an enhanced detail.
NASA photo AS17-149-22859.
The final manoeuvring was performed by the Command Module as Evans had better visibility from his windows.
The LM had been away from the CSM for 79 hours 49 minutes 19 seconds.
At 190:51:00 GET (1244:00 AEDT), 33 minutes 45 seconds after docking, the two spacecraft, now locked together, went round behind the Moon to begin America’s 53rd orbit.
Due to the high day time temperatures on the lunar surface the camera on the Lunar Rover failed 36 hours after the LM’s departure, having been used for a total of 15 hours 22 minutes.
A message from President Nixon was read up to the spacecraft just after they docked,
At Honeysuckle Creek we picked up the action at 192:50:00 GET (1448 AEDT) in the 54th orbit while they were preparing to dump the LM. After transfer of the crew and samples to the CSM, the spacecraft was so full of ‘stuff’ that the astronauts were keen to get rid of their rubbish bag they had been filling for the last three days.
Just before they closed the hatch for the last time, they tossed the bag into the empty cabin of the LM. At 193:58:31 GET (1551:31 AEDT), the latches locking the two spacecraft together were released so the pressure in the tunnel could nudge them apart. Then, under remote control from Houston, Challenger headed for a crash landing on the eastern flank of South Massif.
A 12-second manoeuvre was made at 194:03:31 GET (1556:31 AEDT) to separate the CSM from the LM ascent stage which resulted in an orbit of 118.3 by 113.3 kilometres. A 1 minute 56 second de-orbit firing at 112 kilometres altitude depleted the ascent stage propellants and LM impact occurred at latitude 19.96° north and longitude 30.50° east at 195:57:21 GET (1750:20 AEDT). The impact point was 1.75 kilometres from the planned point and 9.9 kilometres southwest of the Apollo 17 landing site. The impact was faithfully recorded by the Apollo 12, 14, 15, and 16 ALSEP seismic stations.
Although Ed Fendell trained the Rover’s TV camera at the expected point of impact on South Massif, no sign of the crash was seen. However, up in America the astronauts eagerly studied their valley for any signs of the little spacecraft’s grave. Three minutes after the LM struck the surface, Evans called down, “Hey, Houston, I can see a bright spot on the South Massif – on the top of the South Massif.”
Houston asked Evans to repeat his call, “Okay, this is America. I can see a bright spot on the top of the South Massif and – let me see – I guess if you come from the east, it’s the second ridge from the east, and right on top of the ridge is a bright spot. I don’t know how big a crater it should make.”
Then using a photomap Evans described in detail where he could see the ‘new’ crater, calculated to be 17 metres across.
The Parkes Radio Telescope was released from support at this stage.
The first two of eight explosive packages placed by the crew on the lunar surface were detonated at 210:15:14.56 and 212:44:57.11. Both events were picked up by the lunar seismic profiling geophones, and the resulting flash and dust from the second explosion were seen on television. After the eight explosive charges were fired off, together with the LM impact and data from the traverse gravimeter revealed a solid subsurface interpreted as a slab of subfloor basalt as thick as 1.4 kilometres.
|DAY 10||CSM Lunar Orbits||
Saturday 16 December 1972
CSM Lunar Orbits 66 through 71
ALSEP 2, 3 & 4
|Wing HSKX||Orbit 67|
|CSM 2-way from GDS: 1555. Handover to GWM at 17/0051.||2-way duration: 8h 56m|
During their final day orbiting the Moon the crew spent most of the time doing out-of-the-window geology. Because of the discovery of orange soil at Shorty Crater they spent a lot of the time looking for colour at various places where the scientists thought though they might see pyroclastic deposits. As they passed over their landing site Evans noted the orange colour was no longer evident. Because they were following the same ground track every orbit, they had a chance to think about what they were seeing, make hypotheses and on the next pass see if the hypotheses made sense. The same applied to the scientists on the ground at Houston. Repeated passes over the landing site gave them a chance to see the gradual fading of the orange colouration around Shorty Crater, probably due to changing lighting conditions.
At 219:26 GET (1959:00 AEDT) Houston advised the spacecraft, far away from any weather,
While the astronauts were getting ready for their last sleep period in orbit, just before they went behind the Moon on orbit 67, Houston said goodnight, and Overmyer told the crew that while they were sleeping the Old Orange Team would be sitting around the fireplace singing Christmas carols.
|DAY 11||TEC Day 1||
Sunday 17 December 1972
|TEI||236:44:33 GET||1037:32 AEDT|
|Sleep period start||1705|
|CSM 2-way from GDS at 1753 /Handover to MAD at 18/0138 2-way duration: 7h 45m
(Between 1922 and 1933 AEDT 14 commands were uplinked locally from HSK due to a Houston computer problem and HSK received 25 on-board recorder voice/data dumps during this support period.)
At 228:10:00 GET (0202:59 AEDT) at the end of orbit 71, the wake-up music for the last morning in orbit was the appropriate 60’s song “Light my Fire” by the Doors with a line “The time to hesitate is through.” Evans slept right through it, even though he was supposed to be on duty and wearing his earpiece.
Then at 229:21:00 GET (0313:59 AEDT) came recognition of the tracking network from Cernan,
The television assembly and lunar communications relay unit failed to operate when attempts were made to command the Rover camera on at 221:00 GET (1853 AEDT 16 December), 237:44 GET (1137 AEDT 17 December), and 237:53 GET (11:46 AEDT). It was later determined that the relay unit experienced an over-temperature failure.
TRANSEARTH INJECTION (TEI).
The Trans Earth Injection (TEI) burn was performed behind the Moon about 8 hours after they were woken up. Following a 2 minute 23.69 second SPS burn at an altitude of 115 kilometres, TEI (Trans Earth Injection) was achieved at 236:44:32.87 GET (1037:32 AEDT), at a velocity of 9,189 kilometres per hour. The CSM had completed 75 lunar orbits lasting 147 hours 43 minutes 37 seconds.
America appeared from behind the Moon at 236:55:00 GET (1048:00 AEDT), tracked by Madrid and Goldstone, at an altitude of 620 kilometres and shooting rapidly away from the Moon, all the while beaming dramatic television pictures back to Houston.
Cernan reported, “America has found some fair winds and following seas and we are on our way home.”
America climbed rapidly away from the Moon, “Climbing out like a ding bat” as the crew reported, giving the crew a spectacular sight of the crater Tsiolkovsky, and the next time they saw Taurus-Littrow they were 3,219 kilometres away, and Schmitt said he could just see the landslide area at the base of South Massif. From now on there was little to do apart from Evans’ space walk.
Cernan became pensive at 237:30 GET, (1122:59 AEDT) and feeling the moment was special, made the following profound statement,
At 243:08:47 GET (1701:47 AEDT) the spacecraft closed down for a rest/sleep period of 7 hours and 21 minutes.
|DAY 12||TEC Day 2||
Monday 18 December 1972
|TEC (Trans Earth Coast) EVA
by Ron Evans
|Start : 257:34:40 GET||0727:40 AEDT|
|End : 258:20:00 GET||0813:00 AEDT|
The next spacecraft morning the wake-up song at 250:30:01 GET (0023:01 AEDT) was “Home for the Holidays” by Jerry Vale. Houston reminded the astronauts that this day (spacecraft time, 17 December) marked the 69th anniversary of Wilbur and Orville Wright’s first powered flight.
A few minutes later, at 250:37:00 GET (0030:00 AEDT), 62,638.3 kilometres from the Moon and 317,790 kilometres from Earth, they left the Moon’s gravity, passing through the equigravisphere. Houston advised them, “And America, you’re now in Earth’s control. We passed it two minutes ago.”
Perhaps another statistic of interest is when the velocities referencing the Moon and Earth matched (equalled each other) occurred 17 hours 48 minutes later at 268:25:00 GET (1811:01 AEDT) with a speed of 2,017.9 kilometres per hour.
After about two and a half hours preparation, at 257:34:40 GET (0727:40 AEDT), the CM pilot, Ron Evans, began an EVA to retrieve the SIM bay data. Unfortunately at Honeysuckle Creek we missed the whole event, only Madrid was tracking and saw the event live.
Accompanied by an escaping felt-tipped pen, at Evans climbed through the hatch and mounted a TV camera on the side of the hatch. He noticed some paint on the side of the spacecraft had blistered but otherwise everything looked fine. He could see the full Moon behind him to the right, and ahead to the left just outside the hatch, was a crescent Earth.
In the press conference later he described how he felt,
In three trips to the scientific instrument module bay he retrieved the lunar sounder film, panoramic camera, and mapping camera cassettes. While having a brief rest he noticed the TV camera and looking at the lens said “Hi” to his mother, wife and family.
Schmitt was looking after Evans from the hatch,
After 45 minutes 20 seconds outside the Command Module the hatch was closed at 258:20 GET (0813 AEDT) to bring the total extravehicular activity for the mission to 23 hours 9 minutes 41 seconds.
Their penultimate rest/sleep period in space began at 268:19:00 GET (1812:00 AEDT) 250,412 kilometres from Earth.
|Ron Evans retrieves film canisters during the SIM Bay EVA.
NASA photo AS17-152-23391. JSC via the Apollo Image Archive.
|DAY 13||TEC Day 3||
Tuesday 19 December 1972
|Last track for the Honeysuckle Creek Complex for the Apollo 17 mission, and the Apollo Program.|
The song “We’ve only just begun” sung by The Carpenters was beamed up to the spacecraft at 275:00:00 GET (0053:00 AEDT) to rouse the crew after a 6 hour 41 minute break.
A hunt for Evans’ wayward scissors was conducted with Houston passing up ideas where they could have lodged, but with no luck, and there was another optical light flash experiment.
The big event of the day, 180,500 kilometres from Earth, was a 26 minute 30 second press conference held at 284:00:00 GET (0953:00 AEDT), appropriately right at the beginning of Goldstone’s tracking period. Questions were set by the media in attendance at Houston and passed on to the crew by the Capcom Fullerton.
A couple of the more interesting questions were:
Their last rest/sleep period in space began at 291:08:00 GET (1701:00 AEDT), now 135,733 kilometres from Earth. In Mission Control Pete Frank’s Orange Team had taken over control and Bob Parker sat in the Capcom’s seat.
|Gene Cernan cleans his fingernails during Trans Earth Coast.
NASA photo AS17-163-24122. via The Apollo Lunar Surface Journal.
|Ron Evans brushes his teeth during Trans Earth Coast.
NASA photo AS17-163-24123. via The Apollo Lunar Surface Journal.
|Schmitt tries out a moustache after shaving off his beard during Trans Earth Coast.
NASA photo AS17-163-24166. via The Apollo Lunar Surface Journal.
|Off goes the moustache.
NASA photo AS17-163-24169. via The Apollo Lunar Surface Journal.
|Ron Evans during Trans Earth Coast.
NASA photo AS17-163-24127. via The Apollo Lunar Surface Journal.
Wednesday 20 December 1972
|Service Module jettison||304:03:49 GET||0556:49 AEDT|
|Command Module Re-entry||304:18:38 GET||0611:38 AEDT|
1324:59 spacecraft time Tuesday 19 December
Wednesday 20 December
|Astronauts on Recovery ship USS Ticonderoga||305:24 GET||0717 AEDT|
At 298:00:00 GET (0311:10 AEDT) the music of “Anchors Aweigh” and the American National Anthem filled the earpieces of the sleeping astronauts to begin their final day in space. Evans woke up and responded with,
Only one RCS 9 second mid-course correction burn was needed at 298:38:01 GET (0311:01 AEDT) 46,330.2 kilometres from Earth to guide the spacecraft to the critical atmosphere entry point.
Apollo 17 Trans Earth Coast and Re-entry groundtrack.
The Service Module was jettisoned at 301:23:49 GET (0556:49 AEDT), and the Command Module entry followed a nominal profile. It re-entered Earth’s atmosphere (400,000 feet altitude, or 121.9 kilometres) at 301:38:38 GET (0611:38 AEDT) at a velocity of 39,600.8 kilometres per hour, after a TEC (Trans Earth Coast) of 67 hours 34 minutes 05 seconds.
|The plotboard in Mission Control shows the path of Apollo 17 to splashdown.
Screenshot by Colin Mackellar from footage supplied by Stephen Slater.
SPLASHDOWN AND END OF THE MISSION.
For this final splashdown Gene Kranz continued a tradition he started at the end of Gemini IX, putting on his white vest, but this time his wife, Marta, sewed a special creation, “made of metallic thread with broad red, white and blue stripes, the colours of our flag and also the colours of the first three flight directors. For me the vest stood for America, President Kennedy, outer space, the many firsts, and the brotherhood of Flight Control,” he wrote.
The parachutes dunked the Command Module into the Pacific Ocean at 301:51:59 GET (1924:59 UT on 19 December or 0624:59 AEDT 20 December). Mission duration from launch was 12 days 16 hours 31 minutes 59 seconds. They landed 2.1 kilometres from the target, 6.5 kilometres from the recovery ship, the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ticonderoga.
|Applause in Mission Control.
Left to right:
Chris Kraft, and Flight Directors Gerry Griffin, Chuck Lewis and Gene Kranz. The man visible behind Chris Kraft appears to be Bill Tindall.
Screenshot by Colin Mackellar from footage supplied by Stephen Slater.
|Chris Kraft lights Max Faget’s cigar.
Screenshot by Colin Mackellar from footage supplied by Stephen Slater.
The splashdown location was latitude 17.88° south and longitude 166.11° west. After splashdown, the CM assumed an apex-up flotation attitude. The swimmers arrived alongside at 0635 AEDT and the crew stepped onto the carrier’s deck at 0717.
Schmitt remembers, “Splashdown was just about what we expected. We didn’t stay very long in the capsule. The Navy frogmen were in the water almost immediately and had the inflation collar around the spacecraft so we wouldn’t tip over. Within an hour, as I recall, they were knocking on the hatch and saying they were going to open it. I released the safeties so they could, and we were outside and in a helicopter on the way to the carrier.”
|As he emerges from the Command Module, Gene Cernan is welcomed back to Earth by a U.S. Navy pararescueman.
NASA photo H-72-1570.
The last men to travel to the Moon speak to the crew onboard the USS Ticonderoga about an hour after splashdown.
On the dias, left to right:
Gene Cernan; Capt. Norman Green, Commanding Officer of the Ticonderoga; Rear Admiral John Butts, Jr., Commander, Task Force 130, Pacific Recovery Area; Ron Evans; Harrison Schmitt; Major General David Jones, Commander of the Air Force Eastern Test Range [therefore in charge of the ARIA fleet].
NASA photo H-72-1564.
Apollo 17 was welcomed back to a big party on the carrier USS Ticonderoga, and entered the record books with the longest manned flight to the moon, the heaviest swag of lunar samples; the longest activity time on the lunar surface, the longest time in lunar orbit, and the only Saturn V night launch.
Apollo 17 was also the first time DSS 43, the brand new Deep Space Network’s 64 metre dish antenna was used at the Canberra (Tidbinbilla) Deep Space Communications Complex.
Apollo 17 was the most productive and trouble-free manned mission to the Moon. There were no surprises with the health of the astronauts after the mission, they all recovered back to their normal state within 72 hours. At 24 hours Evans was the quickest to recover of all the CM pilots. Cernan lost 4.3 kilograms during the flight and Schmitt and Evans each lost 1.1 kilograms. The estimated distance travelled for the mission was 2,391,486 kilometres.
Perhaps the last word should go to one of the key men responsible for all the successes of Apollo. Looking at the deserted Apollo 17 site through the Rover’s camera, Director of Flight Operations Chris Kraft said, “To realise, my gosh, that’s the end – that’s the bitter end.”
Twenty-five minutes after splashdown, Howard (Bill) Tindall, Director of Flight Operations at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, sent this message to “All”.
Preserved by Hamish Lindsay, 2021 scan by Colin Mackellar.
At Honeysuckle Creek, a special lunch was put on for Wednesday 20th December – to mark the end of the Apollo lunar missions.
From left: 1 ?, 2 Tony Gerada, 3 Jerry Bissicks, 4 from the Powerhouse, 5 from the Powerhouse, 6 Dick Bamford.
Thanks to Tony Gerada for the names.
Photo by Hamish Lindsay, 2021 negative scan by Colin Mackellar.
Prior to the Apollo missions scientists suspected the large mare-basin craters were partly filled with lava flows, originating from vents and lava fountains around the mare-basin margins. On Earth cinder cones mark these vents and fountains. The
It seems the Taurus-Littrow valley had been the site of intense volcanism some 3.72 billion years ago. The subfloor was found to be a lava flow, which the seismic charges revealed was 1.85 kilometres thick. Fragments found in the regolith on the dark valley floor came from the sub-floor. Fragments in the light mantle are various types of breccias derived from South Massif. Schmitt noted that the dark mantle was fine crystals mixed in with the regolith, proving to be a homogeneous basaltic composition.
The ‘orange’ soil at Shorty was found to be chemically identical, but in the form of microscopic beads, orange because of the iron–to-titanium ratio (just as the high magnesium content of the glass found at Hadley-Apennine made it green.) implying it is gas rich magma spewed out by a fire fountain with trace amounts of sulphur, zinc, lead and some other elements.
A block from Shorty Crater’s rim turned out to be excavated bedrock, probably from the very top of the sub-floor. The avalanche was probably triggered by a distant impact
So in the end there was no evidence of recent volcanism. The samples collected at Shorty Crater provided information about lava fountains and told the complete story of volcanism on the Moon. Volcanic material was found on the Moon, but no volcanic craters.
THE MANNED SPACE FLIGHT NETWORK LOOKS TO A FUTURE WITHOUT APOLLO LUNAR LANDINGS
Dr. Harrison Schmitt signs the master signature sheet in the canteen during his visit to Honeysuckle Creek on 3 May 1973.
Standing L–R: (obscured?), Gerry Spear, Jim Kirkpatrick, Bill Waugh, Les Paal, Les Hughes, Martin Geasley, Don Gray (Station Director), Bernard Smith.
Seated L–R: Bryan Sullivan, Cyril Fenwick, Tony Gerada.
Photo: Hamish Lindsay. Scan: Bryan Sullivan.
Dr. Schmitt also presented this memento during his visit.
At a panel discussion in the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 17 flight, Gene Cernan summarised his mission,
Jack Schmitt, also present, added,
ACRONYMS USED IN THE TEXT
|AEDT||Australian Eastern Daylight Saving Time.|
|ACN||Ascension Island Tracking Station in the south east Atlantic Ocean.|
|ALSJ||The Apollo Lunar Surface Journal – every word spoken on the lunar surface.|
|ALSEP||Apollo Lunar Scientific Experiments Package – Equipment left behind by the astronauts to measure physical characteristics of the Moon.|
|AOS||Acquisition of signal from the spacecraft (the downlink).|
|Capcom||Capsule Communicator, the voice of Mission Control, always an astronaut.|
|CRO||Carnarvon Tracking Station, Western Australia.|
|CSM||Command and Service Module.|
|DOWNLINK||The signal sent from the spacecraft back to the tracking stations on Earth|
|DPS||Descent Propulsion System.|
|DSKY||Guidance computer keypad.|
|EVA||Extra Vehicular Activity, or a space walk outside the spacecraft or on the lunar surface.|
|GDS||Goldstone Tracking Station in California.|
|GET||Mission Ground Elapsed Time, time in hours/minutes/seconds from launch.|
|GWM||Guam Tracking Station in the north west Pacific Ocean.|
|HSK||Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station, Canberra, Australia.|
|HSKX||Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex at Tidbinbilla, also called the Wing.|
|IU||Instrumentation Unit, electronic system part of the Saturn IVB rocket.|
|JPL||Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California|
|LOI||Lunar Orbit Insertion.|
|LOS||Loss of the downlink signal from the spacecraft.|
|MAD||Madrid Tracking Station, Spain.|
|MOCR||Mission Operations Control Room in Houston.|
|MESA||Modular Equipment Stowage Assembly, part of the LM.|
|MSFN||Worldwide Manned Space Flight Network of tracking stations.|
|NET-1||Phone line between Mission Control Capcom and astronauts in spacecraft.|
|OMNI||Multiple antennas around the spacecraft.|
|PGNS||Primary Guidance and Navigation System.|
|PKS||Parkes, 64 metre radio telescope at Parkes in New South Wales, Australia.|
|PLSS||Portable Life Support System – the backpacks supplying their physical needs.|
|PSI||Pounds per square inch pressure.|
|PTC||Passive Thermal Control – spinning the spacecraft to even temperatures around it.|
|RCS||CSM Reaction Control System for controlling the attitude of the spacecraft.|
|S-IC||First stage of the Saturn V launch booster rocket.|
|SIVB||Saturn IVB, third and final stage of the Saturn V launch rocket.|
|SIM||Scientific Instrument Bay, a cluster of instruments in the CSM to scan the lunar surface.|
|SEP||Surface Electrical Properties experiment.|
|SLA||Spacecraft LM Adapter – panels to protect the LM during launch and Earth orbit.|
|SPS||Service Propulsion System – Service Module rocket motor.|
|SRT||Site Readiness Test. Tracking station equipment tests before each group of passes.|
|STADAN||Satellite Tracking and Data Acquisition Network.|
|STDN||Satellite Tracking Data Network.|
|TEC||Trans Earth Coast – the voyage back to Earth.|
|TEI||Trans Earth Injection – the rocket motor burn to send Apollo back to Earth.|
|TLC||Trans Lunar Coast – the voyage out to the Moon.|
|TLI||Trans Lunar Injection – the rocket motor burn to send Apollo off to the Moon.|
|UPLINK||The signal sent from the tracking station up to the spacecraft.|
|USCDT||US Central Daylight Saving Time, also spacecraft time.|
|USEDT||US Eastern Daylight saving Time.|
Essay by Hamish Lindsay, 2012–2014.
Formatting by Colin Mackellar. Illustrations sourced by Hamish Lindsay and Colin Mackellar.
Video screen captures and audio selected and processed by Colin Mackellar.
Super 8 footage courtesy Ed von Renouard.
Unless noted, all NASA images are JSC scans courtesy of Kipp Teague’s Apollo Image Gallery.