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back to article Last moon landing was 40 years ago today

No matter how impressed you are by Curiosity's martian trundlings or the various private space programs showing us all the final frontier isn't just the province of governments, the fact remains that as of today it's 40 years since a human set foot on the moon. December 11th, 1972, was the day when Apollo 17 touched down on the …

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Anonymous Coward

I'm old enough to remember watching the first landing. Nothing since has had as much impact as that event.

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Anonymous Coward

I watched the first moon landing, the next one will probably be by the Chinese.

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Nothing since has had as much impact as that event

not even the Jimmy Savile scandal???

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FAIL

sigh

Today not only is it not possible in a short time frame for the US to replicate the Apollo missions we can't even replicate the Mercury missions (just getting a man into orbit). How far NASA has fallen.

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Anonymous Coward

But will the Chinese bring them home or just leave them there?

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Last man

Amusingly - he was the last man to walk on the moon but 11th out of 12 on the list of men who have walked on the moon.

He was the 11th to step ON to the moon, Schmitt being the 12th and last man to step ON to the moon.

Schmitt got back in before Cernan leaving Cernan to leave the last footprints.

There's a great (scripted & acted) scene in Tom Hanks' "From the Earth to the Moon" where they argue who is the last to walk on the moon. Cernan claims it based on leaving the last footprints, Schmitt claims it because Cernan was 11th and he was 12th to step onto the moon.

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Re: Last man

And it's only on the last mission they decide to send a scientist.

It's like deciding that the first dozen robots rolling around on Mars should be tanks

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Re: Last man

You have to remember that the Apollo program was never completed, Apollo's 18,19 & 20 were already planned and they hoped for at least 21 & 22. All of these later missions would have had at least one scientist on board. The budget cuts were something as a shock for NASA and they reacted correctly by bumping Joe Engle from the LMP position as soon as it was clear that 17 was to be the last of the manned landings.

Gene Cernan fought the decision to send a scientist to the moon very publicly for a long time, but, he has since said that Schmitt proved a 'capable' LM pilot - grudging praise indeed!

Also the fact remains that none of the scientist astronauts were actually ready for a mission until this time, just logging the flying time required by NASA at the time took years!

Regardless of the backgrounds of any the people who walked on the moon good science was carried out on all missions in the Apollo program barring 13 as they had more pressing matters to attend.

It is a crying shame that the political support was so transient for this program had it continued we would have had a manned Mars - Venus flyby by 1985 rather than the anticlimax of Skylab and the final 'get Deke into space' mission in 1975.

Better I think than the

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Re: Last man

"Schmitt proved a 'capable' LM pilot - grudging praise indeed!"

Especially as the LM pilots never actually flew the LM. Apart from Al Bean, Apollo 12. And that only as Pete Conrad let him take the controls briefly.

I saw the launch, from 9 miles away because of the sheer numbers of spectators. Just as well it was a night launch. A daylight one would have been far less impressive at that distance.

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Re: Last man

There's a really nice quote from Jim Lovell after Apollo 8:

"Issac Newton was doing all the driving"

I envy you and others who got to see this first hand - I was not even a twinkle in my father's eye back then!

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Scary thing is ...

Today, my country spends more on the military yearly than they spent on the entire Apollo program. All to fend off a couple hundred dusty goat herders who have absolutely zero chance of even attempting to invade the Southern portion of North America.

We need to get back to basics & reality. We are spending gross amounts of money, and showing zero return.

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Pint

Re: Scary thing is ...

The scary thing is that all the future money has already been spend. Including the money for social programs.

> We need to get back to basics & reality.

Basics & reality will get back to us.

Meanwhile, beer in the morning.

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Re: Scary thing is ...

But jake, you don't understand! Fighting off goat herders and their AK47s with übermodern killing gear is for the greater good. If we just keep on bombing our democracy into their bearded faces it will eventually pay out for us all. It's a typical all win situation: they win freedom, we win the good feeling of having brought them freedom. And the warmongers who sell all those creative ways of killing people win a bloody huge profit. </sarcasm>

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Coat

Re: Scary thing is ...

> If we just keep on bombing our democracy into their bearded faces it will eventually pay out for us all.

Absolutely, if these people won't choose democracy then it must be forced on them at gunpoint, that's what democracy is all about. Everybody has to have it.

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Re: Scary thing is ...

There isn't zero to show in return - the world's supply of heroin is safe!

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Re: Scary thing is ...

If someone pointed out that by putting Americans on Mars you'd be putting those few US citizens beyond the reach of any terrorist perhaps they'd be persuaded to re-budget. Once the place has been terraformed the whole lot could go there!

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Unhappy

Re: Scary thing is ...

"We are spending gross amounts of money, and showing zero return."

I'm sure the shareholders and upper management of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, BAE, Halliburton etc etc will disagree with you on the "zero return". It's basically war profiteering where there weren't any really good wars going on, so the wars had to be somehow conjured up

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Scary thing is ...

"We need to get back to basics & reality. "

The definition of "basics and reality" would seem negotiable. Some will maintain that with reduced military spending, the US could certainly afford a very decent space programe, on the other hand this is all deficit spending anyway, which usually ends in tears (or inflation, or both).

And some might argue that it would be neither basic nor realistic to spend in the region of half a trillion dollars (say) on putting a handful of people on Mars whilst half of the population of Earth has to scrape a living on about three dollars a day.

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Re: Scary thing is ...

Who are ironically the same companies that were benefitting from the largesse of the apollo program

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Re: Scary thing is ...

During the first big unpleasantness it was seen that as a result of the circumstances some were making profits in excess of what they would of have in peacetime (effectively "war profiteering") and the government did impose a "Excess War Profits Duty" - a tax of 50% on profits over a certain level.

What are we now to do in a situation of near constant but low grade war?

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Facepalm

Re: Scary thing is ...

Scary thing is...MY country spends twice the entire amount spent on the Moon program every year creating multi-generational dependence on federal programs designed to trap scores of millions in a welfare/medicare quicksand. We're well into our fourth generation of people completely dependent on the state and no end in sight. Of course that serves a particular political party very well...

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Re: Scary thing is ...

It wouldn't be difficult to spend more than NASA did on Apollo.

The USA public spent more on Pizza Delivery or Outboard Motors each year (take your pick) than the cost of the Apollo program for the same year.

That was money better spent than that which is being used to annoy and radicalise a bunch of goatherders somewhere on the othyer side of the world.

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Happy

Re: Scary thing is ...

Er, that's the world's supply of illegal heroin is safe.

Most of the legit, medical stuff comes from plants grown in Tasmania IIRC.

One of the more noticable by-products of the yank escapades in Afghanistan is that you now see copious supplies of Pomegranate juice in supermarkets. That'll be because Pomegranates are the only other high-value crop that can be grown in Afghanistan and they're being subsidised to drive up demand and convince Afghan farmers that ripping out poppies and planting Pomegranates is a good idea.

As I've become rather partial to the stuff, I'm right behind this plan.

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Vic
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Re: Scary thing is ...

> Once the place has been terraformed the whole lot could go there!

We'll need an Ark for that. I recommend building three...

Vic.

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Coat

Re: Scary thing is ...

Er, that's the world's supply of illegal heroin is safe.

Most of the legit, medical stuff comes from plants grown in Tasmania IIRC...

Ahh, ha! So, that's why the Tasmanian Devil in those cartoons is all... d'ahh, nevermind.

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Happy

That launch was very Impressive

I was lucky enough to get tickets to a beach site inside the restricted zone. The loud base was incredible as it rattled everything but the most impressive thing was seeing part of the sky turned blue.

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Thumb Up

Re: That launch was very Impressive

I was lucky enough to get tickets to a beach site inside the restricted zone. The loud base was incredible as it rattled everything but the most impressive thing was seeing part of the sky turned blue.

Lucky bastard.

I may be wrong*, but I recall somewhere on the Web (YouTube?) seeing a remastered video in 24-bit stereo of a Saturn V launch, with an advisory to turn it up and stand between the speakers on your stereo system. It was gobsmackingly loud -- and very clean. I checked it out once on my stereo at home. Great googly-moogly, was that ever something.

And, yeah, you're right on about the sky lighting up. I only saw it on TV, but it was still awesome.

*I may be mis-remembering; it may have been a Shuttle launch.

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Windows

Well...

All the nostalgia and reminescing is appropriate, but I have to say I find it even better to have robots checking out the outer reaches of the solar system or planetary surfaces while engineers safely ensconced in white-collar bunkers check their weak transmissions for newsworthy data.

Of course, there are not nearly enough robots. And they are all energy and delta-V starved. And there should be at least a few doing 0.01c to the Oort. Up with the robot program! Bring on the nuclear propulsion. The universe demands it!

Or one can let depression set in while reading Ballard... "The Dead Astronaut":

"Cape Kennedy has gone now, its gantries rising from the deserted dunes. Sand has come in across the Banana River, filling the creeks and turning the old space complex into a wilderness of swamps and broken concrete. In the summer, hunters build their blinds in the wrecked staff cars; but by early November, when Judith and I arrived, the entire area was abandoned. Beyond Cocoa Beach, where I stopped the car, the ruined motels were half hidden in the saw grass. The launching towers rose into the evening air like the rusting ciphers of some forgotten algebra of the sky...

Already, too, the relic hunters were at Cape Kennedy, scouring the burning saw grass for instrument panels and flying suits and – most valuable of all – the mummified corpses of the dead astronauts.

These blackened fragments of collarbone and shin, kneecap and rib, were the unique relics of the space age, as treasured as the saintly bones of medieval shrines. After the first fatal accidents in space, public outcry demanded that these orbiting biers be brought down to earth. Unfortunately, when a returning moon rocket crashed into the Kalahari Desert, aboriginal tribesmen broke into the vehicle. Believing the crew to be dead gods, they cut off the eight hands and vanished into the bush. It had taken two years to track them down.

From then on, the capsides were left in orbit to burn out on re-entry. Whatever remains survived the crash landings in the satellite graveyard were scavenged by the relic hunters of Cape Kennedy. This band of nomads had lived for years in the wrecked cars and motels, stealing their icons under the feet of the wardens who patrolled the concrete decks. In early October, when a former NASA colleague told me that Robert Hamilton's satellite was becoming unstable, I drove down to Tampa and began to inquire about the purchase price of Robert's mortal remains. Five thousand dollars was a small price to pay for laying his ghost to rest in Judith's mind."

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What happened?

I remember the first moon landing (I sneaked downstairs and sat about a foot away from the TV screen with the volume down). I also tried to watch all of the other missions and I do recall some of the antics of Cernan and Schmitt as they collected data and drove around.

To me aged 16, it seemed inevitable that there would be further exploration; a base on the moon, radio telescopes on the far side (to avoid the "radio" pollution coming from Earth), then a mission to Mars all before the end of the century. It was great time for science, for the evolution of the Human Race.

Sadly, not to be. Politicians took control, money was spent elsewhere, the media decided that we needed more soap operas, not space operas, the urge to investigate the unknown was crushed wherever it appeared.

I salute those that took those first steps; I hope that they were not the last, just the last so far.

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Once again, XKCD nails it

Obligatory XKCD link

Be sure to read the title text as well .....

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I watched all the moon landings as a kid

That is what made me choose astronomy. I since switched to computer science, but happily I am working on astronomical image analysis (among other things). The Apollo programme was the most inspirational research programme bar none.

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Go

Time for something completely different...

Truly a moment of greatness, yes.

But how do we go on from here? The best thing is for the government to encourage the private sector to make getting into LEO as cheap as possible (cough: Skylon, Falcon (reusable) rockets) & then get out of the way & let mankind spread out into space. It could be done in as little as 50 years.

I remember reading about this American guy who was a Pony Express rider, delivering messages from the East Coast to the West coast as a young man. 50 years later, he took a train on the same route as an old man. Change, which can look so huge at first, can come very quickly.

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Re: Time for something completely different...

Bear in mind that the Pony Express only existed for 18 months as a stopgap measure while telegraph lines were being run. It has a huge place in Cowboy Lore but that's mainly down to Wells Fargo "bigging up" the legend for commercial reasons in the following 30 years.

Like horses are inefficient compared to telegraph (but telegraph requires infrastructure), Rockets are a hugely inefficient way of getting into orbit. Terry Pratchett likened it to firing a gun at the ground and riding the recoil into space.

Skylon: Maybe but the payloads are too small.

For ready access to space, something like a Lofstrom loop or space elevator will be needed. Both of them require volumes of material in orbit which can't be practically launched by rocket. Catch 22

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Holmes

Re: Time for something completely different...

Oh, the Pony Express was a short-lived thing, sure, but can you imagine? As a young man, riding through miles & miles of countryside - no farms, no roads, no towns or villages, concerns about wild animals & hostile indians - and then, as a happily-retired grandfather, to take the same journey and it's all roads, rails (obviously, he took a train), towns, cities, farms, fences etc.

It's hard to believe, really.

Skylon's too small? Yes & no. There is a need for large payloads, certainly, and Skylon only does 15 tonnes. Before we're done, we'll need massive structures in LEO & GEO. That said, the first batch of those things can be assembled in 15-tonne pieces.

The most revolutionary thing about Skylon is that it completely changes the economics of access-to-orbit. 15-tonnes for only 10 million dollars? People will happily redesign their stuff to be assembled in orbit for a launch price like that. To get close to that figure though, Falcon 9 has to be reused something like 6 times, which is a bit of a tall order IMHO.

SpaceX will (and has) start the ball rolling on making access-to-orbit cheaper though.

Space Elevator? I'm with you, brother, but the next 30-to-50 years will see infrastructure lifted to orbit via rockets or spaceplanes. After that though...

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Re: Time for something completely different...

Terry Pratchett likened it to firing a gun at the ground and riding the recoil into space.

Obigatory XKCD "What if?" link.

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Headmaster

Pedant Alert

"the fact remains that as of today it's 40 years since a human set foot on the moon."

The article says they spent 75 hours on the moon, so I guess that would mean the last time a human set foot on the moon was the 14th December 1972, not quite 40 years ago.

Article's title is accurate though!

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Black Helicopters

I'm amazed there's no sceptics out there...

"the fact remains that as of today it's 40 years since a human <allegedly> set foot on the moon."

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Trollface

Re: I'm amazed there's no sceptics out there...

Please refrain from feeding the troll!

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Re: I'm amazed there's no sceptics out there...

There is no doubt that the moon landings happened.

The Apollo XIV mission planted a mirror on the moon. Ever since then, people have been firing lasers at this, measuring the time delay before the reflection comes back, and using the speed of light to calculate the distance to the moon.

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Re: I'm amazed there's no sceptics out there...

I wasn't suggesting that they didn't happen, just that I was surpirsed there weren't any comments saying this here. I'm under 40, so have no direct experience of the events, so technically there's a very small chance they didn't happen, as with all historic events.

Getting a mirror on the moon (via a rocket say) is a lot easier than doing a manned mission and doesn't prove it happened beyond any doubt.

Jon

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Unhappy

You've given me a massive a sad.

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Anonymous Coward

@The Jase

You mean to tell us you'd got a sad-on?

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Yet ....

the number of humans who have walked on the moon still exceeds the number of humans who have descended into the Mariana Trench .....

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Pint

"Ronald E. Evans was the unlucky astronaut left to orbit the moon in the [CM]."

He was unlucky to have died at age 56. But It's a horrible and nasty thing to state that the CM pilots were "unlucky" because they didn't walk on the Moon. They went to the fricken' Moon !!! How cool is that?

24 visited the Moon (three of them twice), but 12 walked upon it. All were damn lucky to have had the opportunity.

The astronauts that never left the ground might be fairly described as "unlucky"; but even that is a stretch because their job was still cooler than yours or mine.

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Re: "Ronald E. Evans was the unlucky astronaut left to orbit the moon in the [CM]."

Grissom, White, and Chaffee were the unlucky ones.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Ronald E. Evans was the unlucky astronaut left to orbit the moon in the [CM]."

"Grissom, White, and Chaffee were the unlucky ones"

The OP did say that the astronauts that never left the ground were the unlucky ones. But that overlooks two shuttle crews who were unlucky.

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Anonymous Coward

And they departed from the moon for the last time on my first birthday...

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Boffin

That was space exploration

Scientific investigation is very good but it is not the same as exploration.

The ISS may well be good scientific study and Curiosity is absolutely fantastic. Spaec probes heading out past the edge of the solar system are really excellent too.

None of those are exploring anything. They are investigating it ready for people to actually go "out there". That will be exploring and we have now reached the 40th anniversary of the last explorers.

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Pint

Ever since then, I've really loved night launches

I was not quite sixteen when Apollo 17 left for the Moon. We'd only just gotten our first color TV set a year before -- the last on our block, so to speak -- but it was just in time to catch the EVA video transmissions on the later missions, when video from the lunar surface was not only in full color, but amazingly good quality, especially considering it was coming from a quarter million miles out. So, watching the launch of a Saturn V at night on our great, stonking 24-inch RCA was a special treat.

It was spectacular, even before launch, with the Saturn out there in the dark, bathed in floodlights, looking all weird and ethereal, and when they hit T Zero, and the first stage lit, it was like, bammo, instant daylight. It was like watching a sunrise in time-lapse as the Saturn rose from the pad and cleared the tower.

Ever since then, I've always really dug night launches, though the only thing that came close to the Apollo 17 launch was night launches of the Shuttle. Even today, if I know that an ISS crew is launching aboard a Soyuz at night, I'll make a special date to be near the TV -- or the computer, to catch the NASA live stream -- to check out the action.

Here's a cold one for Evans, Cernan and Schmitt.

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Really?

You all still believe they put men on the moon over 40 years ago?! FAIL

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