Leaving Descartes For Home

At 171 hours and 31 minutes GET, an explosive charge fired a steel blade through the four-inch thick bundle of cables that joined the two stages electrically. More charges severed the bolts holding the stages together, and the ascent stage fired. The rover's TV camera, controlled from Houston, panned upward as it followed the ascent stage until it was out of range. Then the camera panned slowly down to the descent stage left behind. The unnerving realization hit those watching the monitor in Mission Control that the Moon was once again totally lifeless. There was only a machine - the rover's TV camera - that showed signs of movement, surveying the Descartes Highlands that had been home to Apollo 16.

Young and Duke soon rendezvoused with Mattingly, who had orbited overhead performing numerous experiments and taking hundreds of photographs with the Service Module's mapping camera while they were on the Moon. There were smiles and handshakes as the crew was reunited and they spent another day in orbit resting and getting ready for their return home. The SPS burn was critical to break them free of the Moon's gravity and send them towards Earth, and it worked flawlessly. On the crew's trip back to Earth, a news conference was held that included a TV transmission. Questions posed by reporters in Houston were read by Hank Hartsfield in Mission Control to Young, Duke and Mattingly. There were sixteen questions for the crew of Apollo 16, the last of which asked if they had any recommendations for the crew of Apollo 17. Young answered for all of them by saying that the Apollo 17 crew should enjoy it as they had, and then went on to thank all those who had supported their mission. Then, Young elaborated on the discoveries of their mission and the man after whom the region of the Moon they had visited was named.

''Well, let me just say one thing, Hank,'' Young responded. ''Mr. Descartes said it . . . 'There is nothing so far removed from us as to be beyond our reach, or so hidden that we cannot discover it.' You know, Descartes was a French mathematician and philosopher for whom the region was named and I guess, really, the story of our mission so far is we've been out testing this theory. My personal assessment of where we are right now is that as soon as we get the rocks back in the LRL [Lunar Receiving Laboratory], we'll be making headway toward proving he was right.''

Lunar Receiving Labratory
John Young examines one of the lunar samples he collected at Descartes at NASA's Lunar Sample Receiving Laboratory. (NASA)
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