The era of lunar exploration draws to a close

Parker informed them that the scheduled Station 10 stop at Emory and Sherlock craters was being scrubbed, and that they were to return to the LM. Parker then told them that Houston wanted an LRV sample 1.1 km from their last stop, which Schmitt collected. Several hundred meters from the LM, Cernan stopped the rover again for Schmitt to deploy another seismic charge. Schmitt discovered that the Lunar Hand Tool Carrier had unlatched from the Aft Pallet Assembly and swung open. The sample rake and scoop were missing, having fallen off sometime during the traverse from Station 9. Fortunately, the big sample bag was still firmly attached. Schmitt placed the seismic charge in a small depression, took a locator photo and rejoined Cernan on the rover. He then asked Cernan to drive toward a big rock he had up-ended earlier so that he could spot it and collect it as a sample at the end of their EVA. It was amazingly dark, nearly black. Schmitt placed it in the large sample bag at the rear of the rover and chose to walk the short distance back to the LM. Cernan parked the rover near Challenger, aligned the High-Gain Antenna again and turned on the TV camera so that Houston could watch their closeout activities. In total, Cernan and Schmitt had driven 36 km during their mission at Taurus-Littrow. Except for the damaged right rear fender and the failure of the battery temperature sensor, their rover had performed remarkably in some of the most rugged lunar terrain encountered during the J-missions.

"The rover allowed us to explore the entirety of this valley of which I spoke,'' Cernan stated during the author's interview with him, "literally from one end to the other, North to South, to climb up hills we never would have been able to climb up on foot. It just would have been too tiring and too difficult. It's very tough on the surface. You can't really judge inclines and distances and sizes very well, and the rover allowed us to cover this entire valley from both a scientific and a geologic point of view, bring back samples and get pictures from places we never would have been able to get them from. We never would have been able to get to these places, I think that's the most significant thing about the rover. It was just so versatile and gave us so much additional advantage within the time frame that we had on the Moon, that without it, you could have cut down our science and geologic exploration by about seventy per cent. I don't think we could have gotten thirty per cent done of what we eventually did get done, without the rover. It was just a phenomenal asset.''

After all the samples and core tubes were in the necessary sample collection bags and rock boxes, Cernan made a stirring address to many young students who were in Houston. Then he uncovered a curved plaque on the leg of the LM near the ladder, commemorating the mission of Apollo 17. He gave a moving dedication with the closing words: "This is our commemoration that will be here until someone like us, until some of you who are out there, who are the promise of the future, come back to read it again and to further the exploration and the meaning of Apollo.''

Schmitt went out to the ALSEP site to perform some adjustments to the equipment and some related tasks. Cernan got on the rover to drive it out a specified distance from the LM, known as the VIP Site, and positioned it so that Ed Fendell could issue commands from Earth for the TV camera to catch the liftoff of the crew the following day. The LRV dust covers were opened for the last time so that the batteries could cool down as they provided power for operation of the LCRU and TV camera. Cernan had removed the three good fender extensions and the expedient fender repair made of the taped maps and these were later brought aboard the LM to be returned to Earth. These would eventually find their way to displays at the Kansas Cosmosphere and the Smithsonian Museum. Cernan then aligned the TV antenna with its bore sight and confirmed the picture with Houston, at which point Ed Fendell then informed Parker that Cernan had parked the rover too close to the LM. Cernan got back on the rover and drove it a short distance further and for a brief moment, Houston received the only on-board TV images of Cernan driving the rover, since the TV camera was pointed toward him. He parked it once more and realigned the antenna toward Earth, then dusted the LRV for the last time and checked the TV lens to see that it was free of dust. Houston concurred. He then collected Schmitt's camera from under the seat.

"Okay. Let me get one parting shot [of] one of the finest running little machines I've ever had the pleasure to drive.'' Cernan went to the rear of the rover and took a

Eugene Cernan parked LRV-3 about 100 meters east of Challenger at the completion of EVA-3. The damaged right rear fender extension, maps and clamps and intact left rear fender extension were removed from the rover and brought back to Earth. Cernan had driven the LRV more than 30 kilometers on the Moon. (NASA)

Eugene Cernan parked LRV-3 about 100 meters east of Challenger at the completion of EVA-3. The damaged right rear fender extension, maps and clamps and intact left rear fender extension were removed from the rover and brought back to Earth. Cernan had driven the LRV more than 30 kilometers on the Moon. (NASA)

photo of LRV-3's resting place, with Challenger in the distance. Beyond were some of the impressive massifs and hills they had explored, with the utter blackness of space beyond. Cernan and Schmitt finished the remainder of their tasks to close out their last EVA. Before re-entering the LM, they thoroughly dusted each other off, but were not completely satisfied with the result. Schmitt climbed the LM's ladder and Cernan passed up the sample collection bags, the Equipment Transfer Bag with their cameras, the fender extensions (including the improvised one), and the neutron flux probe from the deep drill core hole taken during this EVA. Schmitt transferred everything into the LM's cabin and Cernan climbed up the ladder, paused to look around, then looked toward the Earth and entered the LM. He closed and locked the LM's hatch and initiated cabin pressurization. They spent the next four-and-a-half hours preparing for the last sleep period on the Moon and liftoff the following day.

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