December 21, 2022

50 years since Apollo 17

One of my favorite trivia questions is what do the first and the last man on the moon have in common? Unfortunately there are a couple “right” answers but the one I am actually looking for is… They were both Purdue Boilermakers!

It’s been 50 years since Eugene Cernan was the last human to walk on the moon and it seems very fitting that the Artemis I mission landed around the time of this anniversary. Artemis is the program which will return humans to the moon.

Did you know that only a dozen people walked on the moon between 1969-1972? We made incredible technological and exploration strides during the Apollo program and have done much since in different facets of space exploration, but we have not been back to the moon with humans since Apollo 17 in 1972.

Missions Apollo 18-20 were planned but cancelled when the public lost interest in the missions to the moon. (The remaining Saturn V rockets from those missions are now on display at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center in Florida, Johnson Space Center in Houston, and the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL.)

Recently I was at the Denver Science Museum and I took the time to check out their Apollo exhibit. This button from Apollo 17 was on display.

Apollo 17 was only a beginning…

And while it’s taken 50 years for us to be in a position to send humans back to the moon… make no mistake, that is what we are doing. The Artemis I mission was a great success and it puts us in a position to get humans back to the moon. (Though I hesitate to say back to given how little time we’ve actually spent there.)

In the interim, might I recommend you check out Gene’s book “Last Man on The Moon” and also the movie that was made. (Both are great but we all know the book is always better than the movie!)

I had the pleasure of getting to know Gene (and I have to tell you – I miss him!) and while he still has the moniker “Last man on the moon” I know that this is a title he will be glad to see pass on to someone else. Gene wanted us to get back to the moon and truly explore and I sure wish he was here to see all that is happening in space right now… I wish he could have been here for the Artemis I mission… and the next several.

I look forward to when we can declare someone new the “last” human to walk on the moon… and I look forward to when that person will hold that “title” for much less than 50 years!

To the moon….

About the author

Michelle Lucas
Founder & President of Higher Orbits

Michelle spent 10 years working at NASA primarily in International Space Station (ISS) Flight Control Operations Planning and as an Astronaut Instructor in the Daily Operations Group. Her passion for inspiring students led to extensive work with other organizations in STEM outreach. She then decided to form Higher Orbits to continue to work to inspire students about the wonders of STEM through spaceflight.

Michelle Lucas


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