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Apollo 17 – last human footsteps on the moon – 50 years ago

Apollo 17: Astronaut in spacesuit with gold helmet standing next to dish and American flag.
Astronaut Gene Cernan stands on the moon on December 13, 1972. The astronauts of Apollo 17 left the moon the next day. It’s now been 50 years since humans have touched the lunar surface. Image via NASA.

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50 years since we last stepped foot on the moon

If you were born after December 14, 1972, no human has stepped foot on the moon in your lifetime. The final crewed mission to land on the moon, Apollo 17, left there 50 years ago today. Gene Cernan, the last person to touch the moon’s surface, spoke these words before departing:

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.

Future missions to the moon

With Artemis 1 successfully launching into lunar orbit and returning safely, we’ve finally begun to take steps toward the future that Cernan and so many others envisioned.

The next part of the Artemis program – Artemis 2 – will be a crewed mission. It’ll follow in the footsteps of Artemis 1 by orbiting the moon with humans aboard. Not until Artemis 3 will humans return to the lunar surface. Artemis 2 will likely fly in late 2024 or early 2025. And when will Artemis 3 fly? It’s currently scheduled for 2025, but most expect these timelines to shift further into the future.

SpaceX is also planning to send humans to orbit the moon. Their mission, called dearMoon, would last for about a week and come within 125 miles (200 km) of the lunar surface. SpaceX announced the crew of 11 for the dearMoon mission in early December 2022. Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa purchased all the seats and has chosen all artists to fly with him to the moon.

The SpaceX scenario for its first moon mission is reminiscent of the movie Contact, where Jodie Foster’s character Ellie Arroway tries to describe her trip through a wormhole into space but whispers:

They should’ve sent a poet.

But, whether NASA reaches the moon first, or SpaceX, it should only be a few more years before humans once again step foot on the moon. When it happens, however it happens, the world will be watching with, as Cernan said:

… Peace and hope for all.

Bottom line: It’s been 50 years since humans last stepped foot on the moon. The Apollo 17 astronauts left the lunar surface on December 14, 1972.

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