"Ignition, Houston,'' Cernan reported. "Attitude looks good. Engine Override is On. Master Arm is Off. We got a Descent Quantity Light On at ignition, just prior to ignition.'' The twelve-minute powered descent phase would take the Lunar Module from its ten nautical mile altitude to the valley floor of Taurus-Littrow. Schmitt read off velocity and altitude as Challenger slowed and dropped out of its lunar orbit.
"When we pitched over at 7,000 feet [2,133 meters],'' Cernan told this author during an interview, "we were already below the mountain tops. I mean, we were down there - we were in it! Once we pitched over in the valley, I almost felt like I'd been there before. I recognized a lot of craters. It was just a case of driving the vehicle down to where I wanted to land it. We landed in a valley that was surrounded by mountains on three sides higher than the Grand Canyon is deep, to give you an idea of what the terrain looked like, and at the far end of the valley there was what I
would call an escarpment but it was almost like a dam. If you could have filled this valley with water, that dam might have held it.''
Cernan had done such a good job in landing the LM, avoiding craters and boulders before setting Challenger on the lunar surface, that there was nearly two minutes-worth of fuel left in the spacecraft's descent stage fuel tanks. Mission Control was going through all the telemetry data from the Lunar Module after landing, checking all the systems to be sure that the crew could stay there for the scheduled three days. Finally, the crew got their "Go" to remain on the surface from CapCom Robert Parker in Houston. The two astronauts wasted no time describing what they saw out the LM's windows. For the first time, they were experiencing 1/6 gravity, after they released themselves from the restraints. It proved a pleasant sensation. They continued through their Surface Checklist, had something to eat and drink and then started their EVA-1 preparations and donning their suits and helmets. Only four hours would pass between the moment Challenger touched down and the two astronauts standing on the lunar surface. The Commander was first down the ladder.
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