Back in December 1972, astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmidt spent 75 hours on the Moon before joining their comrade Ron Evans in lunar orbit for the return to Earth. This was the Apollo 17 mission and was the last time to date that anyone walked on the lunar surface.
The Lunar Module Challenger landed in the Taurus-Littrow valley on the edge of the Mare Serenitatis, where the spectacular scenery dwarfed the spacecraft. Schmidt and Cernan planted a US flag and deployed a set of science experiments before wandering throughout the rugged terrain on their Lunar Rover Vehicle. Carried on the three final Apollo missions, the LRV was a cleverly-designed electric car carried folded up to the Moon. On one of these treks they parked on the rim of a deep crater nicknamed Shorty where they scooped up unusual orange soil, a sign of volcanic action in ancient times.
This inspirational image is a fascinating portrait of Harrison “Jack” Schmitt on the Moon. Dr Schmitt was the first scientist to explore another world, and was actually to have landed in Gassendi Crater on the Apollo 18 mission. When cuts to NASA’s budget forced this mission to be cancelled, Schmitt was placed in the Apollo 17 crew instead, thus he became one of the last two men on the Moon. Here he is seen posed with the US flag. His companion Eugene Cernan is just visible reflected in Schmitt’s visor.
The Moon’s surface was memorably described by Buzz Aldrin as “Magnificent desolation” and this magnificent shot brings home the truth of this statement. It shows Cernan working by Apollo 17’s Lunar Roving Vehicle on the rim of the small crater nicknamed Shorty, an emissary from Earth in an alien landscape. In the image you can rediscover one of the Apollo 17 mission’s must stunning and unexpected findings: a patch of distinctly orange soil in a sea of grey. This was later determined to be traces of volcanic glass spewed from an eruption when the Moon was still a living world, some 3.5 billion years ago.
Here we see Schmitt again, unusually he has his gold-plated outer visor raised. Images of astronauts with visible faces on EVAs are rare.
Gazing at his haunting image will make you feel as though you are standing in the Moon’s Taurus Littrow valley. Named by the Apollo 17 crew, Taurus Littrow is located on the mountainous south eastern edge of the Sea of Serenity. It is the relic of the massive asteroid impact about 3.5 billion years ago that created the entire Sea of Serenity. When you are marveling at this image, take the time to look closer to find the trusty Lunar Module Challenger, made tiny by distance, patiently waiting for astronauts Cernan and Schmitt’s return. This delicate study in light and shade of softly rolling lunar hills and boulder-strewn plains reminds us how endlessly fascinating our satellite’s terrain can be.
In 2009 NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter imaged the Apollo 17 landing site where the LM, LRV and science gear still lie undisturbed since the crew left them there. Apollo 17 marked the end of the beginning of human exploration of the Solar System.
(Article by Colin Johnston, Science Communicator)