“As I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come … I’d like to just [say] what I believe history will record — that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.”
On Dec. 17, 1972, Eugene A. Cernan, the commander of Apollo 17, said these words as he took a last look around at the stark moonscape of the Taurus-Littrow Valley on the southeastern rim of the moon’s Mare Serenitatis crater. Then, he and Harrison Schmitt, the lunar module’s pilot and the only geologist-astronaut to walk on the moon, stepped back into the lunar module one last time to return to Earth. Due to NASA’s shrinking budget and to make room for the space shuttle program, Apollo 17 was the last of NASA’s pioneering manned missions to the moon. But even then, no one imagined that it would be more than three decades before humans returned.
Later this year, however, NASA plans to launch its first new missions to the moon in more than 35 years. The goal: To scope out likely spots to land and create a habitat where astronauts can stay for longer than the Apollo program ever dreamed.