Fifty years ago: The last moonwalk

Dec. 13, 1972: Jack Schmitt walks around the split boulder explored at North Massif mountain on Apollo 17’s final moonwalk.

*****

It’s December 13, 1972, afternoon ending in Houston.  Up here on the moon, we’re tired, dog tired, blood under our fingernails and aching.  Yet we’re pumped with adrenalin.  Mixed with a ginger of sadness.  Because today is, the day of our final moonwalk.  Of Apollo’s final moonwalk.  And the knowledge is with us for every step.  Our goal for the last EVA rises 6,500 ft., the mountain we call North Massif, not as far away as South Massif was yesterday. 

It just after 5 p.m. EST as we open the hatch and I head out.  “OK, Bob.  I’m going down the ladder,” I call to our Capcom companion in Houston for these adventures, Bob Parker.   And I recite the message I’ve repeated coming down the nine rungs of the ladder on each of these moonwalks:  “Godspeed, the crew of Apollo 17.”

You, Jack, look out from the cabin, say a single word that says it all:  “Good”

And from Houston, Bob says, “Amen there, Gene.  Amen.”

I’m at the footpad.  “OK, Bob, I’m on the pad.  And it’s about 4:30 [Houston time], a Wednesday afternoon, as I step out onto the plains of Taurus Littrow.  Beautiful valley.”   And in the next breath, get to work, turning on a traverse gravimeter we use to take precise gravity measurements that provide data on structure of the subsurface along our traverses.

As you step out, you say, “. . . Looks familiar — the old plains.”

“The valley of Taurus-Littrow,” I add.

Bob says, “And 17, if you guys are interested, your shadows will be 8 ft. long tonight.”

You ask, “How many meters is that, Bob?”

We have a laugh over that!   The shadows, as the sun rises during the 15-day Lunar day, are much shorter than when we arrived.  The long, deep shadow Challenger cast on landing has shrunken to a pool at the base of the footpads.

We fight the dust that is now fouling latches on the Rover.  We need nearly 45 min. to load the Rover with sample bags, camera magazines and all we’ll need.  Then we set out for the SEP (Surface Electrical Properties) site, which you easily walk to, as I drive.  We activate the experiment, and conduct some quick sampling, spending just 10 min. at the site.

Then we head out on the last traverse of the Apollo program.  Will it be the last until the 21st Century?  It burns us when President Nixon issues a statement calling this the last flight to the moon until perhaps the next Century.  We hope we’ll be back sooner than that.  Even if not, now is not the time to make such as statement.  As we’ve emphasized all along, this is the beginning of the space program, not the end.

We won’t drive the distance of yesterday, won’t be fighting the tight margins of that record-setting EVA.  We’ll travel nearly 2 mi. to North Massif, skirting a big crater we’ve named Henry, and then at the base of the mountain, swinging to the right at a boulder we’ve named Turning Point Rock, going northeast along the lower slopes a quarter mile to our first sample site, Station 6. 

We’re trying to go as fast as we dare push the Rover, but, already, here on the valley floor it’s tough going, dodging boulders.  “It’s not the greatest place to navigate,” I say.  In a bit, I repeat, “I tell you, going is a little bit rough.  There’s a population of blocks . . . and an awful lot of small craters.”  Those little craters can sneak up on us!

You’re busy describing the geology of the features we encounter, trying to piece it all together in your mind as we go.  “Still no obvious structure within the dark mantling material itself . . .  Still seeing the little pit-bottom craters with glass in them.”

Looking up at North Massif — still far ahead of us but looming — at the blocks that have tumbled down its steep side, you tell Bob, “We see the scattered, strewn field of boulders that generally seem to star, more or less, from a line of large boulders, which might indicate some sort of structure.”

I’m pushing the Rover hard. “OK, we’re at 12 clicks [kph] and we’re full bore.”

You look to the right, to the wrinkled slopes of the Sculptured Hills overlapping domes where we’ll stop after North Massif, and report “boulders up on the side of the Sculptured Hills, except they are not nearly as big as those on the North Massif. “

We’re halfway to Turning Point Rock.  I stop so that you can use your long-handled scoop to take a quick sample without dismounting the Rover.  Off we go, aiming for Henry crater, nearly a third of a mile in diameter, near the base of the mountain. 

“I should be well west of Henry, I think.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Henry isn’t right over that little rise on the right.”  

There it is.  “There’s Henry!” you call, “. . . And we’re just southwest of Henry.  . . . On the rim.  Old Prince Henry the Navigator!”  You report that it looks much like Horatio, a smaller crater we drove by yesterday.  Henry “has boulders on its inner wall — not as many.  They look light colored . . .”

Beyond Henry, we spot the boulder we want to sample up on the slope, a bit to the right, the one with a track where it rolled down the mountain and split.  “That’s the one,” you say.  Wow — it’s on the steep slope on that huge gray mountain.  “Can we get up there?”

“It’s awfully high,” I admit.  “We’ll see.”

You spot Turning Point Rock dead ahead of us.

“Yeah, that’s it.”   I’m more confident now that we can make it to the big split boulder.  “We can probably get up there.”

“I think we can.  It doesn’t look too bad.”

I report, “I’m navigating — headed northwest now — to get around the western rim of Henry.”

You give the geology.  “And on that west rim, we’ve got about 10-percent boulder cover, but many are smaller fragments.”

Dead ahead — Turning Point Rock.   “Turning Point Rock is a split rock, has . . . looks like a northwest — southwest overhang, with another block just this side of it, just to the south of that over overhang.  It’s a pyramid-shaped cross section . . . and it looks like it is pretty well fractured . . .”

I’m now looking ahead and across the steep lower slopes of the mountain.  “OK, Jack, I know I can get up to Station 6.”  That’s our sixth sampling sight of the mission — a big split bounder that had rolled nearly a mile down the mountain.

“Yeah.”

“I can drive up there.”

“Yeah.”  You tell Houston that the boulder track it made slants across the contours of the slope.

We reach Turning Point “Boy, this is a big rock, Jack.  Whew.”  It’s about 20 ft. tall.

“Can you drive up to it?” you ask.  You want to check it out, always the geologist.

“Yeah.  I probably can.”

We drive up a steep slope to it.  “We’re on a little rise looking at this boulder.  It’s incredible.”  It looms over us.  We circle it, and drive off.

You admit, “I sort of lost track of Station 6.”

“Naw.  I’ve got it.  I’ve had my eyes on that boulder” — meaning the big split rock.  We cut up the slope at a slant.  

“Yeah, yeah, you’ve got it.  I didn’t realize you were that far upslope,” you laugh.

“Yeah, we’re way upslope.”

Cutting across that slope, we’re tilted over, with you on the downslope side of the Rover.  I say, “Not very comfortable for me on this side.”  I laugh. “How do you feel?”

“Oh, I feel fine . . . until I looked down her and saw the slope we’re on.”

“I can’t go up there” above the boulder with the Rover.  I turn and park.  “That’s not very level, but we’re not going to get much more level than that.”  The rover is slanted down and to the right.  I have to dismount on the uphill side.  Not easy.  It’s worse for you to get off downslope, nearly spilling out on the ground.  “I just about ended up down at the bottom of the hill.”

“Boy, are we on a slope.”

*

STATION 6 — THE SPLIT ROCK

“It’s a beautiful east/west split rock.”  It consists of two main sections, about 10 ft. apart, each section is fractured in several places.  You push off to inspect the boulder, leaving me to dust off the rover equipment, which is difficult on such a steep slope.  

“Oh, man is it hard to get around here.”   Damn — “It’s gonna take me awhile to dust.”  We must be on more than a 15-degree slope.  

You probe a lobe of the big rock with the handle of your scoop.  “It’s a coarsely vesicular, crystalline rock.”  Vesicles are holes left by gas bubbles.  The holes are not round, you notice.  “They’re flattened.  All of them are flattened.”  That indicates the rock was flowing while molten, yet already solidifying.  You’re peering into the history of that boulder, which is the history of the mountain which likely was created in the instant of the impact that created the Sea of Serenity.

I’m still at the Rover, dusting.  “You can’t believe how touch it is getting around this Rover on this slope. . .  I think we’re probably pitch 20 and rolled 20 [degrees]!”

We’ve been budgeted 1 hr. 20 min. for this station and station 7 further across the slope, to be divided as the situation dictates, the primary objectives of this last moonwalk.  We’ll spend most of the time here.

You move off to take a photo pan of the site and tread dirt like water on the steep slope.   You can’t get a full panorama of photos.  “It’s too slope-y.”  You have your outer gold sun visor up, your face visible under the clear helmet bubble.  Sure enough Houston notices.  Bob says, “Hey, Jack.  And we see your gold visor is up.  You may want to put it down out here in the sun.”  You tell them, “Well, I think I might . . . I can’t see with it down — it’s scratched.”  They suggest you really need it down as a protection against the sun.

In addition to the main pieces, three smaller ones strewn up the slope for 80 ft.  You go to the top of the boulder train and inspect it, coming back down.  I’m finished with my tasks, and you call, “Hey — I’m standing on a boulder track.”  And you ask me. “How does that make you feel?”

“That makes me feel like I’m coming over to some sampling.  Think how it would have been if you were standing there before that boulder came by.”

“I’d rather not think of it.”

“OK, let’s go.  You got a spot picked?”

“Let’ get the boulder and then the east/west spilt.”

Then you decide, “Why don’t we sample in the split first” before we muck up everything with our footprints.  And we are really kicking up dirt on this steep slope, shuffling and shifting our weight to maintain balance.  The angle of the slope is demonstrated dramatically as you lean uphill into it to scoop sample the dirt under an overhang in the gap at the split.  It looks like you could kiss the ground without losing balance!  “And the soil outside the overhang will be next.”  You scoop, and I hold the sample bag open.  Teamwork.

“OK, now we need the boulder stuff.”  That’s the cue for me to get out my hammer and strike away at the overhand   I bang away in hard downstrokes.  Then stop.  “Ive got to find a corner I can get at.”  

You notice where a piece of rock is missing from the top of the boulder, just as if someone has taken a sample.  “Looks like there’s been a geologist here before us.”  Indeed, you locate the fragment on the surface.  “Look at that.”

“We ought to bring a big piece of that home,” I say.  “That’s obvious.”

We poke and prod and sample all the various rock types that have been rolled up into this boulder.  We sample everything we can, moving around the boulder.  You borrow the hammer and take a sample from a smaller uphill boulder.  We could sample this split boulder all day.  Yet the timeline is unyielding.  Bob Parker nudges us along, saying, “We’re interested in a variety of blocks, not just this one.”  He asks, “Are they all one boulder?”

“They were all one boulder, I think” you reply.  In the boulders, you see two major rock types fused together by the violent forces that created the Sea of Serenity and pushed up the Taurus Mountains.  We sample “inclusions” of one rock caught up by the violent forces and fused into the matrix of another.

“That’s a more beat-up inclusion of some sort.”

“There’s a nice piece coming out.”

“Don’t lose it!”

You hop uphill, knees bent forward as you tread dirt, looking at our string of boulders.  If this wasn’t serious work, it’d be like playing in a sandbox.  “Here’s a clast that must be 2 ft. across.”  A clast is an angular fragment fused into the boulder.

We’ve got 40 min. left at this site.  Houston wants us to finish here.  “We’re ready for you guys to leave this rock.”

We move uphill.  “Geno, we can sample some the light-colored group [of rocks].  As a matter of fact, this block looks different.”

“Well, so does that big one.”

“It’s grayer.”

We bounce around sampling, are able to sample three boulders at this site.  Bob asks, “Do you guys have a feeling that the two halves of the big boulder are different rocks?  Or is it the same rock split?”

“No, they were all one boulder, I think,” you reply.  “There are just two major rock types in wherever they came from.”

Our time here winding down, Houston wants us to sink a single core tube on the rim of a small crater. Off we go.  “Going down that crater is not a problem — coming back is.”

Just find a decent place anywhere for a core, Bob says.  And get a rake sample.  Once again I say, “I’ll tell you, these slopes are something else.”  From up here, I can survey the entire valley.  “Oh, and there’s Challenger.  Holy smoley!”   Take a good look.  “Hey, Jack, when we finish this station, we’ll have covered this whole valley from corner to corner.”

“That was the idea,” you say with droll humor.  You’re upslope, getting a rake sample.  I hop uphill to join you, loose by balance, one leg goes out from under me, then I fall onto my hands and knees.

We drive the core and hop back to the Rover with it.  I see a couple small dents in the woven-wire tires.  We have to cap the core.  “My hands have had it,” you say.

We pack up to leave, and you say, “I’m not sure I can get back on” the Rover.  It’s at too much of a tilt!   You decide to walk to a small crater 300 ft. down the slope and let me pick you up there.  You take the hammer and chip samples at the boulders there.

I’m able to mount the Rover relatively easily, as my seat is on the uphill side.  “I’m going to power up and see if I can’t get down and get you.”

We give one last look back up the mountain.  “That boulder track is impressive.”

*

*** STATION 7 — NORTH MASSIF ***

We angle east along the slope on a drive of about a third of a mile, taking just 7 min.  You observe, “The pattern on the slope really doesn’t look much different than on the light mantle. Matter of fact, it looks very much like light mantle, except for these large blocks that are in it.”  

This is going to be a quick stop, as we used up 1 hr. 11 min. at Station 6.   Quickly you spot a good site at a 6-ft.-tall boulder.  “That looks like a pretty good pile to work on.”

Yeah. Let’s go over in there.”

Bob tells us, “This is going to be a very short station. Probably not more than 10 or 15 min. Just to grab, as I say a maximum variety of hand samples with a minimum amount of documentation and a minimum amount of time.”

I park the Rover. “That’s about as level a spot as I can find. I’m inside the slope of a crater.”  And of course must dust off the Rover yet again.  “You know what? I’m getting tired of dusting. . . My primary tools: the dustbrush and the hammer.  And my head.”  I ask if your ready to start picking rocks.

“Picking.”  You go off sampling rocks by yourself.  You’re sampling with your scoop, gather up fragments, holding the bag in your left hand.

When I finally finish at the Rover, I lope back along our track 80 ft. to a boulder.  I observe, “I wouldn’t be absolutely positive, but it sure looks like I see a dikelet in here; that’s in the inclusion.”  It’s a structure we haven’t seen before.  It looked like blue vein, very wide, of material shot into the crack of a clast fragment.  The vein between the lighter-colored rock, and it’s the blue-gray rock.

Right then, Bob warns us, “We’d like you guys moving in 5 min.”

Frankly, we ignore him.  You’re on the case now, observing with a geologist’s eye, “These dikes are are a dark bluish gray . . .crystalline.”  You want a piece from the normal gray the dikes are coming from and take the hammer and show me where to hit.

“And we’re ready for you guys to leave,” Bob says

I say, “Let me get this whole thing in a bag. I got a rock, Bob. It’s fractured, primarily around the dike. It’s in several pieces, but we’re going to put it all in one bag.”

We continue to sample the dikes, hammering off samples.  The way they intrude into the rock indicates that the block formed under pressure — meaning it’s come from a depth below the surface.  We continue sampling the sides of the boulder.  I say, “I got to get some regular pictures around this side.”

Mission Control is keeping their TV eye on us.   “And you guys have dropped the scoop there on the ground. And we’re ready for you guys to leave.”

You reply, “I know you are.”

Bob asks us to grab on our way to the Rover a football size rock they’ve spotted.  I bend down, use my hammer as a crutch and grab it.

Even though we stretched it, we only spend 22 min. here.  Ready to drive, I look out over the valley again.  “Boy, Challenger looks a long, long ways away.”

*

*** STATION 8 — THE SCULPTURED HILLS ***

As we drive, Bob says,  “And remember again, Station 8 is a very flexible area. You just get to a place where it looks like it’s feasible to sample the Sculptured Hills.”  Like South Massif, we won’t go into the hills, but sample material at their base.

You suggest, “I think we ought to get below the highest peak up there because that seems to have the rocks on it.”

Not many big rocks, here, not like the Massifs.  I park near a 65-ft.-diameter crater at the bottom of the highest of the hills.  “Yeah. And I’m [parked] fairly level.”

You laugh, “Not really.”

“I’m not?”

“I just about rolled downhill again.”

Still, we quickly dismount.  I say, “Start doing your thing, Jack. It’s going to take me a little while to get this dusted.”

You race off in giant strides, bounding along up the slope into the sparsely scattered rocks.  

“Jack, you find anything up there?”

“I’m going to go up and look at this rock . . .  Right now I think we’re dealing with subfloor material.”   That is, not rocks that have tumbled down from on high.  You’re hoping that a rake sample will at least gather material that came down from the hills.

We have 30 min. at this site.  You’ve found an interesting rock, the only one that looks like it might have rolled here from above, even though you don’t see a track.  “I’m going to roll it down to you. so we can work on it.”  You first document its location with a photograph.  “Are you ready for this?”

You give the small boulder a kick.  The lopsided rock tumbles over two, three times.  As it is oblong, about 2 ft. by 1 ft., it doesn’t roll easily.  You kick it again, urging, “Roll, roll.  I would roll on this slope; why won’t you?”  It turns over and plops to a stop.  We’ll work on it where it is, taking dirt samples, hammering off chips.  You really get down into your work, on all fours for a fragment.  “Boy, is that pretty inside.  I haven’t seen anything like that before.” It looks stained by glass, and will turn out to have originated deep within the early lunar crust.  It will be dated at 4.34 billion years old.

Houston urges us to get on with the rake sample.

We try to figure out which side was originally up.  I kick the boulder over.  “That’s the side that was up.”  Bob again urges us on, but I hammer off a sample.

They want the rake, a sample by a crater rim if possible.  You bound off, leaping with both feet off the surface. Coming down the slope to get the rake, you pretend to skis, as if holding poles.  Skiing back and forth!  “I can’t keep my edges.”

We let loose and have a bit of fun, now that everything is winding down.  I follow, jumping in big bunny hops.  “Whee!”  I go to where you’re preparing to rake.  “I can cover ground like a kangaroo!”

They want us moving out in just 11 min.  We scoop a soil sample, and I pick up a white rock in a small crater.  We’re working as fast as we can, despite being so damn tired this late on our last moonwalk.  You dig a trench to reveal the layers of the soil

“We’d like you moving in 3 min.,” Bob says.

“Good luck,” you mutter.  We bag dirt, skimming several layers, each one a few inches deeper, like peeling an onion.   I hold the bags as you scoop.  Then you photograph the worksite while I return to the Rover.  We’re running out of the big sample containers!

Finally, we tell Bob, “OK, I guess we’re ready to head off.”

*

*** STATION 9 — VAN SERG CRATER: APOLLO’S LAST STOP ***

We drive for our next site, station 9, Van Serg, a comparatively small crater on the valley floor, 268-ft. in diameter with a sharp, raised rim.  You’re mind is assimilating what we’ve seen, and you tell Houston of your observations of the Sculptured Hills.  “I think it’s fairly clear that the boulder population does not resemble the Massif population at all.”

Heading down, I’m now on the downslope side of the Rover, and exclaim, You’ve been riding on downslope side all this time without saying anything?

“Scary, isn’t it?” you laugh.  We have to make some wide turns on these slopes.

Back on the valley floor, we push the Rover at full speed, skirting a crater we’ve named Cochise.  “Bob, we are on the northeastern rim of Cochise. I’m going to work my way around the other side.”  We actually skirt inside the eastern rim a bit so that you can get a good look with your geologist’s eye, a field of blocks below on the slopes.

As we head off, we’re pelted with dust.  You say, “Starting to rain again.”  The battered paper fender has warped and crumpled enough to let the dust fly.   Not quite as bad as if it wasn’t there.

We spot Van Serg and push for it.   “This Rover is getting tested for what it was built for now,” I say, “I tell you it handles just the way as advertised, maybe even better.”

“Tally-ho!” you exclaim as we close in on the crater.  After a ride of about 20 min., we arrive.

With rocks blocking our approach, I park 250 ft. from the rim.  Van Serg “looks like a fresh impact crater,” you observe, not volcanic.   The area is pimpled with half-buried rocks, a few larger half-buried boulders sticking up.  We only have 25 min. here.

With the improvised fender failing, there’s even more dust to clean up.  “That’s just a sample, Jack, of the kind of dust we would have had yesterday if it wasn’t for that fender,” 

You say the Rover, with so much dust, looks like an earthly geological survey vehicle.

“Talk about a block field.”  The site is cover with 30 percent blocks.

“We’re going to go up there and sample along the rim.”   While I dust, you go up and survey what’s on the rim.  “It’s blocky — whoo!”  You describe the partially-buried blocks.  “The crater itself has a central mound of blocks . . . intensely shattered as are the ones on the wall.”

I join you on the rim, ready to work with my hammer, and we begin sampling, the rocks and the soil next to a boulder.  We’re tired and our voices are thick with fatigue.  

Fatigue — you drop a sample off our tongs.  Pick it up.  “It looks like a cow pie, if you pardon the expression,” you say.  “. . . It looks like it’s it’s been in place from the day it was born.”

Houston wants a radial sample along a line from the rim.  “I’ll take my radial from here to the Rover.”

Bob calls, “We’d like you to leave immediately, if not sooner for station 10.”

You reply, “I think that’s a smart move.  I don’t think the radial sample is going to give you much.”  But then in the trench you’ve begun you discover some light gray material that intrigues you.  “We can’t leave this.  Bob, we’ve got to take five more minutes.”   The material could represent the latest layer of mantling.  

Houston says we’ll take an additional 10 min. here, take a core sample that was scheduled for station 10.  And wrap things up here  and skip station 10, which would have been a boulder field at another crater, Sherlock.

We drive in the core tube.  “It’s full . . .  It’s very coarse soil.”

Houston says to pick up a couple football-size rocks.  As I prepare the Rover, you range out and grab a light-colored rock sample.  Bob calls, “We’d like you to climb on.”

And that’s it.  Our last station.  Yet we’re not done, not you and I.

*

*** THE LAST DRIVE — EVA CLOSEOUT ***

We head out of the block field.  You ask, “We going to Sherlock at all, Bob?”

No, we’re going straight home…” he says.

It’s a drive of about two-thirds of a mile back to the LM, with a short stop at the SEP site.  Along the way, though, we still describe the features we encounter, even divert to explore them visually.  Approaching a crater we’ve name Gatsby, you note how the mantle streams over one edge.  “Can you swing to your right and get up a little closer to the rim, there?” you ask.  We drive up, and you say, “Look at that.  See that?  . . . See that structure?”

Further on, you lean over and scoop a Rover sample.

“Get it?” I ask.

“I will.  Got it.”

We stop near the SEP site where you deploy another seismic charge, one of many to be set off after we leave, the vibrations read by the ALSEP instruments.  While your dismounted, you pick up yet another sample.  You decided to walk home from there.

“OK, Bob, I’m back at the LM.”  It’s been about a half hour since we left station 9.  We still have about an hour and a half of work to do, unloading our treasure, packing everything up.  And more.

You’re due to walk out to the ALSEP site, take some last pictures, and try to awaken  Lunar Surface Gravimeter which is not working.   And I am to park the Rover and set a last seismic charge.  

“Are you ready for me to go to the ALSEP?” you ask Bob.

“Rog. We’re ready for both of you guys, now.”

That’s a subtle hint that we don’t get.  Then look at the checklist.  “Wait a minute, Jack. Wait a minute. Here. Wait a minute. Where are you?”   It’s time for some last ceremonies.  We pick a rock that will be divided and distributed to youth groups around the world.  Their representatives are watching from Mission Control.

You say, “Yeah. Let me get it, so you won’t get it too dirty.”  You hold the fist-size rock as we stand before the TV camera. 

I speak:  “Houston, before we close out our EVA, we understand that there are young people in Houston today who have been effectively touring our country, young people from countries all over the world, respectively, touring our country. . .  I think probably one of the most significant things we can think about when we think about Apollo is that it has opened for us – ‘for us’ being the world – a challenge of the future. The door is now cracked, but the promise of the future lies in the young people, not just in America, but the young people all over the world learning to live and learning to work together. In order to remind all the people of the world in so many countries throughout the world that this is what we all are striving for in the future, Jack has picked up a very significant rock, typical of what we have here in the valley of Taurus Littrow.”

You hand the rock to me, and I continue:  “It’s a rock composed of many fragments, of many sizes, and many shapes, probably from all parts of the Moon, perhaps billions of years old. But fragments of all sizes and shapes – and even colors – that have grown together to become a cohesive rock, outlasting the nature of space, sort of living together in a very coherent, very peaceful manner. When we return this rock or some of the others like it to Houston, we’d like to share a piece of this rock with so many of the countries throughout the world. We hope that this will be a symbol of what our feelings are, what the feelings of the Apollo Program are, and a symbol of mankind: that we can live in peace and harmony in the future.”

We quickly perform another ceremony, training the camera on Challenger’s ladder.  I say, “To commemorate not just Apollo 17’s visit to the valley of Taurus Littrow but as an everlasting commemoration of what the real meaning of Apollo is to the world, we’d like to uncover a plaque that has been on the leg of our spacecraft that we have climbed down many times over the last three days.”

I take a cover off the plaque, which is located between rungs of the ladder and continue:  “And I’ll read what that plaque says to you. First of all, it has a picture of the world. Two pictures. One of the North America and one of South America. The other covers the other half of the world including Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia, covers the North Pole and the South Pole. In between these two hemispheres, we have a pictorial view of the moon, a pictorial view of where all the Apollo landings have been made; so that when this plaque is seen again by others who come, they will know where it all started. The words are, ‘Here man completed his first exploration of the Moon, December 1972 A.D. May the spirit of peace in which we came be reflected in the lives of all mankind.’ It’s signed, ‘Eugene A. Cernan, Ronald E. Evans, Harrison H. Schmitt, and most prominently, Richard M. Nixon, President of the United States of America.’ This is our commemoration that will be here until someone like us, until some of you who are out there, who are the promise of the future, come back to read it again and to further the exploration and the meaning of Apollo.”

NASA Administrator James Fletcher speaks a few words to us.  And then we get down to our final tasks.  I park the Rover in its final resting place, 518 ft. east of the LM on a slight rise where its TV camera will witness our departure.  I take off the fender extensions and our make-shift one to take back with us.  

Meanwhile, at the ALSEP site, you rap and rock the gravimeter in an effort to uncage its leveling bubble.  It doesn’t work.  Bob says, “Let’s go on and take some more ALSEP photos.”  And after you retrieve the neutron probe from the deep-core hole for return to Earth.  

“Jack, we’re ready for you to leave the ALSEP.”   You dash back to the LM with the neutrino probe, but you’re still not done.  You confess, “There was another one of those exotic rocks out there, one of those gray basalts.  There aren’t too many around here, so I picked it up.”

I say, “Oh, Jack, you’ll always be picking rocks.”

I’m still at the Rover, and take one last picture of what I call, “one of the finest-running little machines I’ve ever had the pleasure to drive.” 

I can’t say it enough.  “Oh, what a nice little machine,” as I leave on foot for the SEP site, set the seismic charge.  And perform my last task — shut off the SEP.  I.  Houston wants us inside the LM in less than 15 min.  Bob says, “Gene, we’re ready for you and your dustbrush to hasten back to the LM and dust each other and climb in.”

“You know what, Bob?”

“What, Gene?”

“Great as an experience as it has been, I’d say we’re both probably ready.”

I’m dog tired.  Still you say, “Oh, I don’t know.”  You’re Dr. Rock to the end!

I take my last traverse across the lunar surface, long hops to bring me back to the LM.  We have time for one last bit of fun, despite Bob’s urgings.  I no longer need my trusty hammer.  Let’s give it a heave.

“Let me throw the hammer.  Please!” you say.

“It’s all yours . . .  You’re a geologist.  You ought to be able to throw it.”

“You ready?”

“Go ahead.”

“You ready for this?  Ready for this?!”

“Yeah — don’t hit the LM or the ALSEP.”

You throw it like a discus. 

“Look at that.  Look at that!  Look at that!” I exclaim.  It looks like it’s going a million miles. 

Fun is over — we only have 10 min. left on the surface.  We dust each other off as best we can.  You tell me, “Boy, you got dirty today.”

And you climb inside, and I hand up the last sample containers.  And stand on the surface the last time.  “Bob, this is Gene, and I’m on the surface; and, as I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come – but we believe not too long into the future – 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. “Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17.”

Roger, Geno. Thank you very much.”

A few seconds later, I call, “Bob, I’m up the ladder, and I’m going to be going through the hatch.”

And then:  “Here I come.” 

We begin repressurizing the cabin, at 12:41 a.m. EST after a moonwalk of 7 hr. 15 min.  It’s now a new day, December 14.  

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