Science City: Last Steps on the Moon…for now (Image: NASA/Keegan Barber)
The next time you spot the full moon in a clear night sky, take a moment to enjoy the view.
Of all the spots on the Moon, perhaps the most famous is the Sea of Tranquility.
This is where Neil Armstrong took his first “small step” in July 1969, but there is a place just above that where two of the dark lunar maria meet that is no less important.
This valley is known as Taurus-Littrow and was the site chosen for the last of the Apollo missions, the NASA program that in the late 1960s and early 1970s launched astronauts from sunny Florida all the way to The moon.
Apollo 17 was the last mission in the program, and aboard the huge Saturn V at launch that December night were Commander Gene Cernan, Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmidt, and Command Module Pilot Ronald Evans (as well as five mice—Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum and Phooey – along with a selection of invertebrate seeds and eggs).
It was the longest Apollo mission, launching on December 7, 1972 and not returning until 12 days later, on December 19.
Breaking records was the name of the game for Apollo 17.
From December 11 to 14, Cernan and Schmitt spent the most time in extra-vehicular activity (EVA), spending over 22 hours on the lunar surface, orbiting nearly 8 km of their Challenger lunar lander and retrieving a whopping 110 kg of moon rocks.
They were also lunar speed demons, flying across the dusty face of the moon in their patched-up rover at 18 km/h.
It was the first Apollo mission to have a scientist on board, in the form of geologist Schmidt.
Knowing that this would be the last manned mission, NASA moved him from the Apollo 18 crew, hoping that his scientific expertise would benefit the mission.
He was to go on to collect what was described as “the most interesting sample returned from the Moon,” a sample that suggests the Moon once had an active magnetic field, just as Earth does today.
Even now, as we mark the 50th anniversary of the last mission, scientists are still studying samples of moon rocks that the Apollo crews brought home with them, learning more about the Moon and the planet we call home.
These rocks are stored in vaults at NASA and are priceless, more than valuable. Having been fortunate enough to hold a collection of some of the Apollo 17 specimens preserved in a clear Plexiglas disc, I can attest that they are as beautiful and valuable as any crown jewel.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the last man walking on the moon, the team at Glasgow Science Center are excited to share the legacy of Apollo with our visitors.
While the rock samples are valuable, the photos and movies the astronauts took are just as important, and the originals are also incredibly fragile.
Most of the images you’ll see from the missions are reproductions of reproductions and have lost a lot of their detail and vibrancy.
This is where Andy Saunders comes in.
Andy is one of the world’s foremost experts in digital restoration and is one of the few people NASA trusts with the Apollo photographic archives. He has spent years recovering images from every single manned Apollo mission and assembling them into an incredible collection.
From Friday until 16 April 2023, all our visitors will be able to view some of these images in the stunning Apollo Remastered exhibition which accompanies the fascinating book of the same name.
We hope the exhibit will be a walk down space age memory lane for visitors who remember the first moon landing and may even inspire some of our younger visitors to follow in the pioneering footsteps of the Apollo crews into space, to the moon and beyond.
With the recent successful launch of the Artemis I mission, it won’t be long before humans return to the moon, possibly before this decade is up.
And as Gene Cernan said when he left the surface of the moon for the last time in December 1972, “we will return with peace and hope for all mankind.”