Friday, December 7, 2012

40th Anniversary of the Launch of Apollo 17

Launch, 12:33 AM, December 7, 1972

Today (December 7, 2012),  marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of the Apollo 17 Lunar Mission. It was the last mission  in which a crew of astronauts left low-earth orbit and spent time on another celestial body. The crew of Apollo 17 - Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans, and Harrison Schmidt - took perhaps the most famous image of the earth, nicknamed later The Blue Marble.

Earth from Apollo 17

It seems odd that you would have to be almost 50 years old to remember the last trip to the moon.  We have in no way given up on space missions - witness the latest unmanned robotic explorers of Mars and Mercury (where ice has been discovered at the poles of the latter). The International Space Station is still in orbit and actively manned by astronauts from a host of countries. But space exploration seems to have aged rather poorly compared to those dynamic days of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. The Space Shuttles are now in museums where they join the Saturn V rocket that launched Apollo 17 on its last mission to the moon. The U.S. is pinning its hopes for future space access on commercial vehicles to replace the retired Shuttle fleet. 

While many Americans will remember December 7th for a far sadder event in 1941, I would rather remember it as the day we again reached towards the stars.

Post Script: Apollo 17 was the last mission for my fledgling aerospace engineering career. I had worked on the lunar experiments for the Apollo 12 to 17 missions. I returned to grad school and changed fields to bioengineering where opportunities seemed a little better. Sadly, I think I was right. 

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