Apollo 17 was the sixth and final Apollo mission to land people on the Moon. Compared to previous Apollo missions, Apollo 17 astronauts traversed the greatest distance using the Lunar Roving Vehicle and returned the greatest number of rock and soil samples.
Apollo 17 also has the distinction of being the only Apollo mission to carry a trained geologist to walk on the lunar surface: lunar module pilot Harrison Schmitt. Astronauts landed on the southeastern rim of the Serenitatis Basin, known as Taurus-Littrow. Scientific objectives included geological surveying and sampling of materials and surface features in a preselected area of the Taurus-Littrow region, deploying and activating surface experiments, and conducting inflight experiments and photographic tasks during lunar orbit. When the Apollo 17 astronauts lifted off from the Moon for the last time, it marked the end of lunar exploration by crewed missions in the 20th century.
Meet the Astronauts
- Eugene Cernan, Commander: Apollo 17 was Eugene Cernan's third and final mission in space, having also been a part of the Gemini IX-A and Apollo 10 missions. He was also the last person to walk on the Moon as a part of the Apollo program.
- Ronald B. Evans, Command Module Pilot: Apollo 17 was Evans first and final mission in space.
- Harrison H. Schmitt, Lunar Module Pilot: Apollo 17 was Schmitt's only mission to space, but he was also the first trained geologist to set foot on the Moon. He was later a United States senator for the State of New Mexico.
20.19080° N latitude, 30.77168° E longitude
The final mission in the Apollo lunar exploration program was to gather information on yet another type of geological formation and add to the network of automatic scientific stations. The Taurus-Littrow landing site offered a combination of mountainous highlands and valley lowlands from which to sample surface materials. Taurus-Littrow, takes its name from the Taurus mountains and Littrow crater which are located in a mountainous region on the southeastern rim of the Serenitatis basin. The landing site was about 750 km east of the Apollo 15 landing site at Hadley Rille.
The site was surrounded by three high, steep massifs. Most of the plain between the massifs is covered by a dark mantle which apparently has no large blocks or boulders, and which had been interpreted to be a pyroclastic deposit. The dark mantle is pocked by several small, dark halo craters that could be volcanic vents all near the landing site.
One of the more notable moments of the Apollo 17 mission happened when Schmitt discovered orange soil. On prior missions, astronauts had noticed dark haloed, which they suspected could be young volcanisms. When Schmitt discovered the orange soil, he believed at first it could be evidence of a young volcanic deposit. Naturally, he and Cernan were ecstatic about this uncommon find. Listen to Schmitt and Cernan's reactions and discover something else orange – Harrison Schmitt's recipe for Chili.
Just after unloading the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) from the Lunar Module, Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan accidentally knocked off the right-rear fender extension. He taped it back on but it fell off later, and the wheel kicked a plume of fine lunar dust over the rover and its occupants.
At the suggestion of technicians on Earth, Cernan and lunar module pilot Harrison Schmitt taped together several plastic-coated map sheets to make a replacement fender extension. Above, in the photo on the left are the components in question: a spare wheel and fender (bottom), a fender extension brought back from Apollo 17 (middle), as well as the replacement for the extension made of map sheets and tape on the Moon (top).
Apollo 17 in the Collection
When the crew of Apollo 17 returned to Earth after their record-breaking mission in December 1971, commander Gene Cernan brought back the pair of lunar overshoes he walked on the surface of the Moon with. The boots that left the last human footprints on the lunar surface now live in the Destination Moon exhibition at the Museum. Go behind the scenes with curator Cathleen Lewis and learn about what these boots have to say about the past.
Despite the remarkable successes of the Apollo Program, the nation gradually lost interest in a program of lunar exploration. With Apollo 11, we had fulfilled President Kennedy's 1961 challenge and beat the Soviet Union in achieving a historic feat of exploration. By the mid-1970s the marvels of Apollo—the Saturn V rockets and the spacecraft—were set aside and the national expertise that made them possible was redirected. A successful space program now had to find a new purpose in a new era.