In December 1972, astronaut Eugene Cernan became the last person to do which of the following?
And the answer: walk on the moon.
Gene Cernan holds the distinction of being the second American to walk in space and, as a crew member of Apollo 17, he was also the last human to leave footprints on the lunar surface. Historians suggest that the end of the Cold War put an end to the urgency of moon exploration.
Just eight years after President John F. Kennedy announced the ambitious goal of reaching the moon, and just 12 years after the commencement of the Space Age, two sets of footprints made contact with the moon. The latter, Eugene Cernan, brought with him a history that still stands today. Thanks to Apollo 17, Americans now boast several new records for human space flight, including the longest lunar landing flight (301 hours, 51 minutes), the longest lunar surface extravehicular activities (22 hours, 6 minutes), largest lunar sample return (nearly 249 pounds), and longest time in lunar orbit (147 hours, 48 minutes).
At the conclusion of Cernan's trip to the moon, America had sunk around $25.8 billion into the Apollo missions. Though the achievements were immense and felt widely in the morale of the nation, the lessening pressure from the Cold War began to sap the inspiration to go to space. In many ways, the space race's politics formed the backbone of its success, and without the driving force of competition, the herculean effort became one that marked the 1960s alone.
However, recent pledges by the United States government indicate a drive to return. With industries such as Space X working with NASA, operations are underway to achieve the goal of lunar travel by 2024. The project Artemis marks intentions to create an ongoing presence on the surface of the moon. Read more about the project here.
Did you know?
Inflight, the Apollo 17 crew took one of the most iconic photographs in space-program history, the full view of the Earth dubbed "The Blue Marble." See it below.