The End Of The Apollo

The end of the Apollo missions to the Moon officially occurred at Mission Control in Houston. In a subdued yet moving few minutes, the voice of Apollo Control, Robert T. White, Sr. spoke the following words:

"This is Apollo Control, with the helicopter safely on deck. The network controller Dave Young will hang the final plaque in the Apollo series on the upper wall of the control room here. And this circuit, known up until now as Gemini Control, then Apollo Control, will reappear as Skylab Control . . . in the spring. This is Apollo Control out, at 305:25 Ground Elapsed Time.''

The audible click as the circuit went silent hung in the air and the silence seemed to go on for minutes. Those in Mission Control sat at their consoles, unwilling or unable to get up. An era of manned space exploration had ended and it seemed anti-climactic. No one knew when man would ever again return to the Moon. Years of unremitting effort, unparalleled achievement and scientific discovery, nerve-wracking crises, human tragedy, and gratifying success had quietly come to an end.

"When I left,'' Cernan recalled during this author's interview, "I remember climbing up that ladder, looking down into those sets of footprints, and since the Earth was, in our case, low on the horizon and for all the other flights it was overhead, it was just in our view all the time, particularly when I looked over my shoulder climbing up the ladder. There was the Earth, there were my footprints and I knew very well that I personally would not be back this way again, and that it might be some time before someone else would. But never in my entire life did I think it would be a generation. I thought we'd be on our way, not only back to the Moon, but on our way to Mars by the turn of the century. So it's a dubious honor to still be the last man to have left his footprints on the Moon at this point in time. But, my glass is not half empty, it's half full, because there are some young kids out there - a young boy or girl as I said in my book [The Last Man on the Moon, St. Martin's Press (1999)] - with the indomitable will and courage that is going to take us back out there where we belong. This increment in time will probably be a hiccup in history because there is no question that we are going back and we are going to Mars.''

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