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Return to Earth

Corrected Transcript and Commentary Copyright © 1995 by Eric M. Jones.
All rights reserved.
Last revised 24 February 2013.

Rendezvous and Docking

The Ascent burn lasted about 7 minutes and 18 seconds and it put the Challenger crew into an elliptical orbit with a low point of 9 nautical miles above the Moon and a high point of 50. It was a nearly perfect burn. At 12 minutes 12 seconds after launch, Gene did series of RCS (Reaction Control System) firings - called "tweak burns" - to fine tune the orbit. Compared with their 5500 foot-per-second (fps) orbital speed, the velocity change that Gene wanted - 4 fps aft (down through the ascent engine bell), 1 fps out the plus-Z axis (out the windows), and 9 fps left (toward Gene's side of the spacecraft) - was trivial in the extreme. However, they wouldn't rendezvous with Ron for another hour and a half - not until they'd gone around the backside of the Moon and were in radio contact with Earth again - and a net speed change of 10 feet per second meant the difference between a perfect rendezvous and a miss of several kilometers. Better to do the tweak now, with a small engine burn, rather than later with a bigger one.

Because the required velocity change was so small, Gene actually did three separate RCS firings - one for each of the three spacecraft axes. With Jack watching the AGS (Abort Guidance Computer), Gene fired the thrusters associated with the x-axis - which ran up through the Ascent Engine bell to the overhead hatch - until the AGS told them that they had made the desired 1 fps velocity change. Then he did the z-axis change - the z-axis runs from the rear of the cabin forward toward the hatch - and, finally, the y-axis (left/right) change. By the time they were done, they were 125 miles behind and below the Command-and-Service Module (CSM).

The LM crew was flying in an orientation such that, when they got close enough, they would have a clear view of their sister ship. About 18 minutes after the launch, Gene got his first visual sighting of the CSM. He and Jack had just passed through the sunrise terminator into darkness and, although Ron was still out in front of them, he was high enough that he was still in sunlight. Moments later, Ron also passed into darkness and, once his eyes adjusted to the lower light levels, he spotted the tracking light on Challenger.

The two spacecraft were now about 112 miles apart, engines quiet and following paths which, through the magic of orbital mechanics, would soon bring them together. Fifty minutes after launch, Challenger and America disappeared behind the Moon and, by the time they reappeared, forty-five minutes later, they were only 0.8 miles apart and were closing at a stately 30 fps. Gene and Jack had their backs to the Moon and were looking almost straight up at Ron in the CSM. Ron, too, had a good view. His TV camera was mounted in one of the CSM windows so that Houston and the rest of the world could watch Challenger as it seemingly rose up from the lunar surface. Gradually, Gene slowed his approach and, at a separation of only 100 feet, he stopped. Then Ron did a slow rotation of the CSM so that the LM crews could do a visual examination of the ship that would take them all home.

As the two ships passed over the landing site for the first time since lift-off, Gene and Ron maneuvered into docking attitude and then, ever so slowly, Gene inched closer. There was no need to hurry. They were going to spend the next two days in lunar orbit, gathering more data and adding to the wealth of visual observations that Ron had already provided. Fifteen minutes after they started to maneuver, the two spacecraft were docked and, in a few minutes more, they were sure that all the latches were secure. They had a hard dock and could open the hatches, clear the connecting tunnel and begin to transfer the precious lunar samples.

Minutes after the two spacecraft were hard docked, CapCom Gordon Fullerton read to the crew a statement from the Nixon White House. "As the Challenger leaves the surface of the Moon, we are conscious not of what we leave behind, but of what lies before us. The dreams that draw humanity forward seem always to be redeemed, if we believe in them strongly enough and pursue them with diligence and courage. Once we stood mystified by the stars; today we reach up to them. We do this not only because it is man's destiny to dream the impossible, and to do the impossible; but also because, in space, as on Earth, there are new answers and new opportunities for the improvement of and the enlargement of human existence. This may be the last time in this century that men will walk on the Moon, but space exploration will continue, the benefits of space exploration will continue, and there will be new dreams to pursue, based upon what we have learned. So let us not mistake the significance or miss the majesty of what we have witnessed. Few events have ever marked so clearly the passage of history from one epoch to another. If we understand this about the last flight of Apollo, then truly we shall have touched a 'many splendored thing'. To Gene Cernan, Jack Schmitt, and Ron Evans, we say God speed you safely back to this good Earth."

Gene made a gracious statement of thanks and then Jack and Ron added brief thanks of their own. But, inside, Jack was steaming. Apollo was ending, but there were still 27 years left in the century and he hated the thought of an American President telling a whole generation that they would have no chance to do their own lunar exploration. But there was nothing Jack could do but suppress his anger and, in the meantime, there was some more exploration that he and the others could do before they headed home.

Once the hatches were open and the tunnel was cleared, Ron passed over the vacuum cleaner and Gene and Jack got busy with the worst of the dust. LOS (Loss-of-signal) came about forty minutes after the docking and, by the time Apollo 17 re-emerged three quarters of an hour later, Gene and Jack were handing sample containers over to Ron. With his own interests in mind, Ron also made sure that they had all the helmets and gloves and other gear that they would need for his EVA. Once they had left lunar orbit and were on their way home, Ron was going to go outside, secured with a tether, to retrieve film canisters from the SIM (Scientific Instrument Module) Bay. The EVA promised to be the highlight of the mission for Ron and he didn't want to lose out on his chance by leaving a helmet or a glove behind in the LM.

LM Jettison and Impact

By now, Challenger had almost completed its mission. The rocks and the helmets and gloves were all safely aboard America and, indeed, the Command Module was so full of rocks and astronauts that the only way they were going to get a little elbow room was to get rid of a jettison bag that Ron had been filling for the last three days. Consequently, just before they closed the LM hatch for the last time, the astronauts tossed the bulging jett bag into the now empty cabin of the LM. Challenger had one last mission to accomplish. She was headed back down to the Moon for a planned impact on the eastern flank of the South Massif, a final sacrifice to the gods of seismology; and, as Challenger made her last trip down to the lunar surface. She also had the unglamorous - but necessary - job of carrying the trash.

(In writing these words, I am reminded that, whenever I mention these jettisoning operations in a talk about Apollo, someone in the audience will later ask why the astronauts were so carelessly littering the Moon. Why didn't they bring their trash home? As Jack mentions in his commentary, when we go back to the Moon to build a permanent base, trash will truly be treasure. The cost of bringing things up from Earth is high enough that anything that could possibly be reused will be stored and cataloged. However, during Apollo, fuel margins were so precious that there it was a simple choice of bringing back geology samples or trash. The choice was simple.)

Because of the precision that was hoped for Challenger's impact, the jettison operation was carefully choreographed. The crew got their suits on and did a pressure check. Then they pressurized the connecting tunnel and, at about 194 hours into the mission, released the latches so that the pressure in the tunnel could gently push the two spacecraft apart. For another half hour, the flight controllers made sure that they could control the LM attitude; and then, at the proper moment, at 195 hours 38 minutes into the mission, they did a long firing of the LM's RCS thrusters. At launch from Earth, the LM was carrying 630 lbs of RCS propellant and, because things had gone so smoothly throughout the flight, there were still 450 pound left when the LM was released for it's final descent. During the long, 1 minute 56 second burn, another 270 pounds of propellants was expended, enough to trim 213 feet per second off the orbital speed of the 5277 pound Ascent Stage and send it toward impact with the South Massif.

Because there were only 40 hours left before the crew was scheduled to leave lunar orbit, the instrumentation in the SIM Bay were still busily gathering data. There wasn't going to be another opportunity to gather close-up lunar data for a long time and a visual observation of the LM impact was of lesser importance than proper orientation of the Command Module for data gathering. Consequently, the crew was looking back along their ground track at the moment of impact and, because the LM was flying in a lower orbit, they were not yet over the landing site when it hit.

Down on the lunar surface, the TV camera on the Rover was still in good working order and, as the moment of impact approached, Ed Fendell pointed it at the planned impact point high on the eastern slope. But there was a question. Because there was only a limited amount of tracking data that could be acquired in the 17 minutes between the end of the deorbit burn and the impact, predictions of the impact point were uncertain by about 10 to 15 kilometers. Fendell could look at most of the error ellipse if he pulled back on his zoom; but, with a wide field, he would have limited resolution, which would lower his chances of seeing anything. For several minutes, he played with the zoom and adjusted his pointing. However, in the end, he went to maximum zoom and aimed at the planned point and hoped for the best. Given the relatively poor resolution of the camera - even at maximum zoom - there wasn't much chance of success and, even though the LM did hit the mountain within a mile of the planned spot, nothing was seen by the eager audience in Houston. The seismometers that Jack had deployed at the ALSEP site recorded the impact, but there was nothing to be seen on the TV.

The orbiting Apollo 17 crew had a bit better luck. Three minutes after the impact, Ron had the South Massif in view.

"Hey, Houston, I can see a bright spot on the South Massif. On the top of the South Massif."

Down in Houston, Bob had been listening to another conversation and asked Ron to repeat what he'd said.

"Okay, this is America. I can see a bright spot on the top of the South Massif and - let me see - (text omitted) I guess if you come from the east, it's the second ridge from the east, and right on top of the ridge is a bright spot. I don't know how big a crater it should make."

(For interested readers, the LM impacted with a speed of about 1.5 km/s and with a mass of 2400 kilograms. The impact energy was, therefore, 2.7e16 ergs. From a paper by V.R. Overbeck, we can estimate that the total displaced mass was about 6.7e8 grams. Then, if the mean density of the target material was 2.0 g/cc and the crater was conical in shape with a depth one-fourth its diameter, the crater diameter was about 17 meters.)

Moments later, Ron dug out a suitable map - Landing Site 204 in a book of photomaps he had been using for visual observations - and described the location in more detail for Bob. "If you draw a line from Shorty to that Reseau mark that's on the top on the South Massif, and then extend about a little better than one-eight of an inch toward Shorty from that Reseau mark...somewhere right in there...That's a bright spot on the top of the Massif that I hadn't noticed before in any of the observations going by there...You know, that bright spot might already (have been) there; but I don't think so. I don't remember seeing it." (Initial estimates of the impact point based on the time of the first seismic arrival indicated that the impact had been within 15 miles of the planned point.)

Orbital Science

Now that Challenger's mission was done, Gene and Jack got down to the serious business of getting cleaned up. And it took a while. At the end of the next Farside pass, it was Gene who answered Houston's call with a cheery "This is your friendly commander, clean and happier, back up (on comm)."

"Roger, Geno," Bob replied. "We're glad to hear you're clean again."

"Well, I'm not really clean, but it's a major step in the right direction." As he recalls in his commentary, Gene even had lunar dust that had worked its way under his fingernails and it was a long time until the growth of his nails pushed it all out.

Once they were clean, Gene and Jack were ready to join Ron in some sightseeing. And there was plenty to see. As they passed over the landing site for the first time since the LM impact, Ron took a series of pictures (AS17-151-23250 to 23255). And then, a short while later, Jack reported that, in "passing over the Hadley Apennines site from Apollo 15, we noticed that, at their landing point, there's the same slightly or distinctly brighter area as there is at Taurus-Littrow site." Then, in thinking about what he'd seen at the surface, Jack added that "as we walked along the surface - and this was true at Hadley also - you stirred up a darker zone, albedo-wise. When you look at it from orbit, the area around where the LM landed (is) a distinct bright spot on the surface of a fairly uniform, gray-albedo plain. And both sites look just alike."

The crew was in a light-hearted mood. They were back in orbit and it had all gone beautifully. Thanks to a warning from Gordon Fullerton, the lift-off CapCom, they knew that it was Bob's birthday and, at a quiet moment just before saying good night, they broke into a three-part rendition of "Happy Birthday."

Never one to let his crew get the upper hand, Bob reacted by saying, "Well, all I can say (is that) it might be appropriate, but it's not very musical." His instant review drew a laugh from the crew and then, after Bob added a "thank you", Gene responded with "Epic, Bob. Epic. At least you know it's from the bottom of our (pause) hearts."

"And just to let you guys know,", Bob replied, "that I'm not easily swayed and made soft by such shows of sentiment, I want to remind the CDR and the LMP that they're going to start collecting their urine from now on." The experimenters were still at work, and an ill-timed urine dump would play havoc with the UV camera and the other gear. After three days in a gravity field, Gene and Jack were going to have to re-adapt to the intricacies of zero-g hygiene.

On their final full day in lunar orbit, the crew of Apollo 17 was going to spend most of their time doing out-the-window geology and the wake-up music was Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." During the day, Jack, the professional geologist, and Ron, the seasoned lunar observer did most of the talking.

Because of the discovery of orange soil at Shorty Crater at the landing site, they spent a lot of time looking for color at various places where they and the geologists in the Backroom thought that they might find other pyroclastic deposits. As they passed over the landing site, Ron noted that the orange coloration at Shorty was no longer visible but, a bit further west, in the Solpicius Gallus area in southwestern Mare Serenitatis, both he and Jack described numerous features that not only showed prominent orange, but also reds and reddish browns. Eventually, Jack saw enough that he was ready of offer an explanation of the colored layers.

"Gordy, my impression from Shorty the other day, and also from seeing these craters that seem to have orange around them (and) that look very much like impact craters from orbit, it may be that - if that is an alteration phenomenon - that it's being localized around the structure created by the impact. But, in this latter case, it looks as if the impact itself penetrated into a zone of that color."

And a few minutes later, in describing a feature that Ron had just pointed out to him, he added, "There's a gouge just south of the Sulpicius Gallus ( 12 Mb ) ridge. The gouge (is) a rimless depression and, streaming down from the upper portion of that depression are not only our old friend the orange-grays, but some that would be a red-brown gray. Very, very clear coloration in this light...My goodness. There's another crater we'll have to look at."

"Yes," said Ron, "there's a whole bunch of them down there."

"Yes, but that's something in the wall of it in that area. Yes, it's starting...(chuckle)...Man, we're seeing an orange Moon now. This whole dark mantle in here around Sulpicius Gallus...they are scattered craters with a variety of orange to red-brown hues. And they all - except for that large, rimless depression, which looked as if it was exposing some layers which were streaming that colored debris down its walls. All the other craters seem to be small impacts that apparently are penetrating just far enough into the dark mantle material to tap this zone of orange to red-brown material."

"And just north of that elongate depression," Ron added, "there is another circular crater. And it also is penetrating down through this mantle stuff. And it had the reds and the browns and oranges dipping down it, too."

For most of the day, the astronauts described what they were seeing out the window. The large, mare-filled, Farside crater Tsiolkovsky was of particular interest and so, too, was Mare Symthii near the eastern rim. Jack, of course, tended to talk in terms of comparisons between the various features he was seeing and, at one point provided a lengthy discussion of the so-called "wrinkle-ridge" systems which bound the various mare. Jack was truly in a geologist's paradise and, at one point, Fullerton jokingly told the crew that a requested change in the comm configuration was being done "so that the secretaries that are transcribing the air-to-ground can catch up with Jack."

Banter between the crew and the CapComs was an important part of the mission. It was the voice of a friend, a comrade-in-arms who had an office down the hall and who had been through training with you. It was certainly not a faceless voice a quarter of a million miles away.

It was Gordon Fullerton's turn at the CapCom console and he had a question for Ron. Readers will recall that, prior to the landing, Ron's scissors had turned up missing. The scissors were a vital piece of equipment, mostly because the food securely packaged in tough plastic bags, and Ron had endured quite a bit of ribbing when his turned up missing. Gene and Jack each had a pair and it was only with mock reluctance that they agreed to leave a pair behind so that he wouldn't starve while they were down on the surface.

"Say, we've got a question for Ron," said Fullerton. "We've got large teams of engineers trying to locate the missing scissors, and we haven't asked you in a while whether you might have found them. That might save them a lot of effort down there."

"No, I haven't found them yet," replied Ron. "And there's a lot of room underneath these CO2 absorbers (as) I found out the other night because I lost my flashlight. But it (the flashlight) kind of floated out, and I saw it every once in a while. And we found the flashlight and got it back, but I still haven't the slightest idea where the scissors are."

At this point, Gene joined the conversation. "Gordo, you might have someone hide them (that is, a pair of scissors) in the CSM (mock-up) and send a backup crew down to the Cape and see how long it takes them to find them."

"Okay," agreed Fullerton. "I'll get an airplane scheduled up right away."

While the crew was doing geology and bantering with the CapComs, the science teams back in Houston were busy with their own work. At one point in the proceedings, Fullerton read up a science summary for the crew. While Gene and Jack were on the surface, NASA had attempted to launch a small Aerobee rocket from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The rocket was carrying a UV spectrometer designed to obtain a solar spectrum that could be used to calibrate the data being acquired from the Command Module. That first launch had failed; but, as Fullerton reported to the crew, a second attempt was successful. He also reported that the infrared radiometer back in the SIM Bay was getting excellent data and mentioned, for example, that during CSM orbit 33 (when Gene and Jack were back in the LM cabin after EVA-2), the crater Kepler C showed up as a 132-degree Kelvin hotspot superimposed on a 94-degree background after 11.6 days of the lunar night. The implication was that the ejecta blanket was retaining heat better than the surrounding surface.

Down on the surface at Taurus-Littrow, the heat flow probes were nearly equilibrated and the PI (Principle Investigator) was confident that they were going to get a good measurement. The Lunar Surface Gravimeter, an experiment designed to detect gravity waves and a source of considerable frustration to everyone involved, still wasn't working. The Seismic Profiling Experiment was returning good data, having seen both the LM ascent and the impact on the South Massif. Transit times of signals across the array were indicating propagation velocities in the regolith very close to those of the Apollo 16 site, and analysis of the LM impact signals indicated that the impact had occurred close to the target point. Fullerton reported that the first of the seismic charges had been fired and, in addition, that an analysis of the temperature history of the SEP recorder suggested that some good data was obtained.

Fullerton told the crew that the Traverse Gravimeter - an elegantly designed experiment that gave a high return for a small investment of crew time - had proved to be a "spectacular success". Among other things, a preliminary analysis of the gravity readings obtained during the traverses indicated that the valley fill material was considerably denser than the Massif material and, indeed, the measurements were consistent with a thickness of 3 to 4 kilometers of dense, basaltic rock.

The crew was quite happy for the news. As Gene said, "It's satisfying to have put in that much time in and come out with some meaningful results. That makes us all feel good." And, of course, not only did they have the satisfaction that most of the surface experiments were living up to expectations, but there was also the considerable contribution they were making from orbit.

In all, the crew of Apollo 17 put in a full eight-hour day of visual observations - and probably with a good deal more that was done without report to Houston. Because they were following pretty much the same ground track on every pass, they had a chance to think about what they were seeing, make hypotheses, and then, on the next pass, see if the hypotheses made sense. Repeated passes over the landing site gave them a chance to see the gradual fading of the orange coloration around Shorty - presumably an effect of changing lighting conditions - and to compare what they were seeing at Shorty with related features in the Sulpicius Gallus region. From time to time, too, Houston could test its own hypotheses and have the crew examine specific features. As an example, there were some small craters west of the landing site which bore some resemblance to Shorty but which, on close examination, did not appear to be remarkable. Clearly, while it was possible to do good geology from photographs - particularly high resolution photographs of the sort taken by the Lunar Orbiter spacecraft in 1966 - there was no substitute for a well-trained pair of eyes. Like the other J-mission CMP's Ron did some first-rate out-the-window geology. However, even to a casual reader of the orbital geology transcripts, Jack's background and his freshly-minted experience on the surface raised the art to a new level. If, as Gene and Jack mentioned in their mission commentary, NASA management was less than enthusiastic about having them spend an extra day in lunar orbit, it was a risk that, once taken, paid off handsomely.

But, eventually, the day had to end. For the last couple of hours before starting their rest period, the crew was pretty busy getting themselves and America ready for their last sleep period in lunar orbit. Just before LOS on Rev 67, Houston said goodnight and, indeed, Bob - who had taken over from Fullerton at the CapCom console, told the crew that, while the were sleeping, "the old Orange Team will be sitting around the fireplace here and they'll all be singing Christmas carols." It was December 16 and it was time to go home.

Light My Fire

The wake-up music in the morning was the Doors' "Light My Fire". It was a great choice and the amazing thing about it was that Ron slept right through it, despite the fact that he was "on watch" and was wearing the ear piece. Gene suggested that Houston play the song again but, before that could be done, Ron woke-up, sounding very, very groggy. Just for his benefit, Houston went ahead with the replay.

Wake-up came just a few minutes before LOS and, by the time the crew re-emerged, they were eating breakfast. CapCom Bob Overmyer read up a summary of the day's news. Former President Harry S Truman - who had been in the crew's thoughts throughout the mission - was still in serious condition. He died the day after Christmas. When it was their turn to talk, the crew reported that they had all slept well - once they got to sleep - and got about 5 hours a piece.

The TEI (Trans Earth Injection) burn was done over the Farside about eight hours after wake-up. During their final hours in lunar orbit, all three of the astronauts passed along miscellaneous geology observations, but the burn was the main event and, when they emerged from behind the Moon for the last time, Gene was able to report a nearly perfect, 1/2 g burn. "America has found some fair winds and following seas," he said, "and we're on our way home." Indeed, once Houston got enough tracking data, they found that the velocity error was so small that the midcourse correction would only have to be 0.3 fps (10 cm/s) and there was talk of deleting the burn.

After the burn, America climbed rapidly away from the Moon and, indeed, the increased altitude meant that AOS came more than 13 minutes early than it would have without the burn. The climb out from the Moon also gave the crew some new perspectives and they shared the view with Houston, especially a spectacular TV tour of the crater Tsiolkovsky. By the time the landing site came into view, they were 2000 miles out and they were beginning to lose detail. Jack said that he could see the landslide area at the base of the South Massif but, soon, even he had to give up. Before long, they settled into the routine of the flight home and, as Jack told Houston, there really wasn't much to do. Ron was experiencing some gastric distress and, for the first time in the mission, Houston set up a private comm channel so that he could talk to the doctors without the world listening in. The last five hours of the day passed slowly.

The highlight of the following day was to be Ron's EVA and, this time, although it was Gene who first responded to Houston, there was no grogginess in Ron's voice when he joined the conversation.

The wake-up music was Jerry Vale's "Home for the Holidays" and, to underline the message, Houston reported to the crew that they had just passed the point where the pull of Earth became dominant over the Moon's. Gene, of course, wanted to know how fast they were going at the crossover and Houston came back with a figure of 3851 fps - roughly a very modest 1 km/s.

Still Thinking about Van Serg

While Gene's attention was focused on their progress and the status of the spacecraft - and the happy reminder that this day was the 69th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight - Jack was still thinking about the Moon. He called down to Houston and asked CapCom Bob Overmyer if there was anyone still in the Backroom. No, he was told. They'd all gone home.

"That's all right, Bob. I just want you to pass on a thought. I had a little trouble getting to sleep last night - and they've probably already thought of it - but it has to do with Van Serg (crater)."

"Go ahead, I'll copy it down."

"No, just ask them if they've thought about the possibility that those Van Serg breccias might be the old indurated regolith over the subfloor."

During the stop at Van Serg toward the end of the third EVA, Gene and Jack had been surprised and puzzled that this fairly sizable impact out in the middle of the valley was not the basaltic rocks that they had come to expect but, rather, some very fragile rocks that looked to be breccias - rocks made up of fragments of other rocks fused together by an impact. On the drive back to the LM, Jack had speculated that Van Serg had, by chance, hit a "window" in the basalt and had dug up underlying breccias but, he remembers not being very happy with the hypothesis. Because Van Serg is only a few tens of meters deep, the "window" hypothesis would require that, elsewhere in the valley where they did see basaltic rocks, the basaltic layer not be very thick. Consequently, Jack's thinking during the night may have been influenced by the report from Fullerton that the Traverse Gravimeter was indicating that the basaltic valley fill was three or four kilometers thick and, therefore, the Van Serg breccias had to be made from something that was lying on top of the basalt at that location. Perhaps they were actually clods of soil which had been highly compressed - turned into a fragile "instant" rock - in the impact.

"That's an alternative," Jack continued, "that, in the heat of battle did not occur to me at the time. It should have, and it may have occurred to some of them (in the Backroom)."

Overmyer wanted to make sure that he understood what Jack was saying. "Okay. That's as opposed to being a window to the subfloor, which is what you suggested the other night."

"Yes, sir. I think I like the regolith (breccia) better. I think it makes sense from a lot of points-of-view; the size of the crater, the fact that we should have expected to see something but hadn't up to that time."

"Okay. I got that."

"And the breccias, thinking back on it, could very easily have been soil breccias and just getting coarser as you got closer to the top of the subfloor, which is that we were looking at down in the bottom of the crater."

And, indeed, when the Van Serg breccias were examined back in Houston, they proved to be soil breccias - larger, more competent versions of the instant rock that Gene and Jack saw at the rims of smaller craters at several places in the valley.

Ron Evans Goes Spacewalking

About five hours after wake-up, the crew began preparations for Ron's EVA. They put all the miscellaneous trash they'd accumulated since saying goodbye to Challenger and removed the center couch so that they'd have room for Ron to get out and for Jack to stand in the hatch and take pictures. (The jettison bag would drift off only slowly as they continued their journey and, once it hit the top of the atmosphere, would quickly burn up.)

Because they didn't have a lot of elbow room and, as well, weren't in any great hurry, preparations for the EVA took about two and a half hours. But, eventually they were all suited and had done pressure integrity checks and were ready to open the hatch.

As they were depressurizing the cabin, Gene, who was a veteran of a zero-g EVA on Gemini IX, advised Ron to be sure that, once he had made his way back to the SIM Bay, he got his feet firmly planted in the footholds before he did anything else. During Gene's "spacewalk", which was only the third which had ever been done and the first in which an astronaut attempted to do real work outside the spacecraft, Gene was hindered by a lack of hand and footholds. When he tried to use a wrench to turn a bolt, it was he who tended to turn and, coupled with the inadequate cooling capability of the Gemini suit, he had a very frustrating and tiring time of it. For later Gemini EVAs, hand and footholds were added to the outside of the spacecraft and, back at the Apollo 17 SIM Bay, there was a pair of good footholds for Ron to use.

'Okay, babe," said Gene as they prepared to depress. "When you get out there, just take it nice and slow and easy. You got all day long."

"Yes, that's right," said Ron. "It's not like the zero-g airplane (which gave only about a half minute of zero-g at a time)."

"Feel yourself around," said Gene, "and it's nice and easy to get around. Just don't let your body start moving too fast down there. Okay. Side hatch (dump valve) is coming open slowly."

"Nice day for an EVA, Ron," said Jack as they got down toward zero pressure. Go out and have a good time."

Ron got his visors down. He was wearing Gene's LEVA, the one with the big red stripe, and the gold visor made it hard for him to see while he was still in the cabin. From their own, recent experience, Gene and Jack assured him that he would need the protection once he got out in the full Sun.

MPEG Clip by Kipp Teague (1 min 01 sec; 6.3 Mb)

When Ron was ready, they opened the hatch. A felt-tipped pen drifted out, but no scissors. And then Ron followed.

His first job was to mount a pole on the side of the spacecraft and then mount the TV camera on the pole. Some of the paint on the side of the spacecraft was blistered, he noticed; but, otherwise, it all looked to be in great shape. Gradually, he made his way back to the SIM Bay, laughing and humming as he went. At first, he had a little trouble forcing his feet into the restraints but, eventually, he was securely in place and, just to show everybody that he was, he let go with his hands.

He was having a great time. "Hey, this is great," he said, laughing as he did. "Talk about being a spaceman, this is it!. Okay, back to work."

His next job was to hook a tether on the Lunar Sounder data cassette so that, when he pulled the cassette out, it wouldn't float away if he accidentally lost his grip. Once the tether was in place, he pulled on the cassette. "Okay, let's try the old cassette. We'll push down on it until it (the locking mechanism) goes past center. Ah-ha! I think that was more than two pounds of force to come out, but it came out."

A moment later, after he'd gotten out of the foot restraints so that he could bring the cassette back to Jack at the hatch, Ron caught a suit pocket on the spacecraft and, when it broke loose, the sudden force threw his feet up into the air. He was able to control himself with his hands, but he noticed that, as he used his wrists to rotate his feet back down toward the spacecraft, it was hard to stop them again and avoid having them bounce right back out. "See, you twist yourself down there, and then you got to stop or you hit the end and you bounce back up in the air again."

After a successful hand-off to Jack, Ron made his way aft again to get the Pan Camera film cassette. Once he had it out and tethered, he discovered that the easiest thing to do was to let the cassette float on the tether so that he could get a good grip with both hands while he got his feet out of the restraints. "I think I'll just kind of let that thing go and hang on with both hands...Okay, it's just kind of floating around up there. Both feet are free. Okay. It's just kind of coming along with me. I'll just let her do that...Okay. Coming. She's still coming. Must be back behind me. That's good. Nice and slow. Because you don't want that thing banging around too much up here, I don't think. Ahhh, there it is! Delivered it right to you. That's the way it ought to be done, isn't it?"

Ron was having a ball and, at one point when he was taking a brief rest and looked toward the hatch and noticed the TV camera, he said "hi" to his mother and to his wife and their two boys. And then, all too soon, it was time to end the EVA. It took a minute for Jack to get out of the way so that they could get Ron and his umbilicals back into the spacecraft. As he got the TV camera down off the pole, he gave Houston a look at the Moon, but the ground was eager for him to get back in. Once he'd handed the TV in, he stuck his own feet down in through the hatch and, with Gene and Jack to guide him, got in without any difficulty. "Man, it's dark in here," he said.

Three hours before splashdown, Gene gave America a nudge of 2.1 feet per second to fine tune his trajectory. Considering how far and how long they had traveled since the TEI burn, this minuscule burn was a testament to the men and women who and designed, built, and flown the Apollo spacecraft. 301 hours 51 minutes and 59 seconds after the launch from the Cape, America landed in the Pacific, 1.3 miles from its target. Crammed into the spacecraft with the crew were more samples and more frames of exposed film than any other crew had brought back to Earth and, although the splashdown marked the end of Apollo, it was a grand and fitting finale.


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