Having mentioned Apollo 17 in what turned out to be the final post of 2016 on this blog, I couldn’t let the passing of Eugene Cernan, Apollo 17’s Mission Commander, go unremarked. Captain Eugene Andrew “Gene” Cernan, USN, passed on January 16, 2017 in Houston, Texas. It’s always sad when these veterans and dare I say, heroes pass. We may not know their like again.
I don’t have much to add to this as the picture itself is amazing. The minute Earth floats just above the American flag, 44 years ago, as Harrison Schmitt and Gene Cernan walk on the lunar surface in the final Apollo Mission. Apollo 17 lasted from December 7 to December 19, 1972, and had many memorable features including the only night launch of an Apollo mission. Harrison Schmitt, in a conversation I heard a few years ago said of the launch”Did you see it? I missed it!”
I was asking my history class last week if they thought 17 was a strange number for the last Apollo mission. I will have to read the official history again but I do believe that enough Saturn Vs were built for numbers 18, 19 and 20, but the Nixon administration’s budget cuts of the early 70s put paid to the effort.
On a personal note (since there ought to be one) I actually met Harrison Schmitt a couple of times a few years ago (I think it was 2009) in a previous job. Once as a speaker in a series of talks about the Manned Space Program and once again to talk about his book. I found him to be a very sociable guy – he has after all been a politician and public figure for many years, and he chatted easily with his audience, and was very much at ease for a talk he gave. I dutifully joined the line to purchase and have him sign a copy of his book Return to the Moon: Enterprise, and Energy in the Human Settlement of Space. (New York, Copernicus, 2006) in which he advocates a series of privately funded return missions to re-establish a colony on the Moon for energy extraction and low gravity manufacturing. Interesting stuff.
Since we saw the tiny blue dot which is the earth floating above the flag in the first picture, it would be appropriate to note that Harrison Schmitt is probably (I think he says he is) the man responsible for another fairly classic image of the Earth from any Apollo mission, this is the picture commonly known as the “Blue Pearl”