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Apollo 17's 40th anniversary celebrates man's last trip to the moon

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Apollo 17
Apollo 17

It was 40 years ago today that Apollo 17, the final chapter of NASA's heralded Apollo program, took off from Kennedy Space Center en route to the moon. After a last-minute delay, the Saturn V rocket carrying Commander Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans, and Harrison Schmitt lifted away from the Earth's surface at 12:33 AM EST — the first nighttime launch in NASA's history. Despite the late hour, over 500,000 spectators were on hand to witness the spectacular beginnings of what would become our last manned voyage to the lunar surface.

The crew would touch down four days later and conduct a total of three moonwalks. Cernan and Schmitt spent more than 21 hours traversing the moon, and the video recordings of their activities remain as mesmerizing today as they were in 1972. Despite an exhaustive list of mission tasks, the two weren't afraid to let loose and enjoy their surroundings. In one timeless moment, they skipped and sang not unlike the children (and future astronauts) that idolized them. Speaking to mission control, Commander Cernan predicted that man would return to the moon "not too long into the future." Yet in the decades since his crew came home, no one has been fortunate enough to make the same trip. Still, the dream is very much alive.