A go for landing

Five thousand feet above the Moon's dusty surface, Cernan could see that Challenger was actually dipping below the level of the massif mountain ranges to the right and left of the valley. Houston chipped in with confirmation to proceed: ''Challenger, you're go for landing!'' At one hundred feet altitude, Cernan took over manual control of Challenger and guided the craft down. As Schmitt recalls, the exhaust blast from the descent engine soon began to flay at the lunar surface below.

''Dust began to stream away from the rocket as we went through about 100 feet above the surface. After Gene slowed a briefly-too-rapid descent, the six-foot-long probes beneath the landing pads touched, a blue light flashed on in the cabin, we shut off the rocket engine, and fell the last few feet to the surface. Slightly less than a second later, news of our landing arrived at Earth.''8

Almost three and a half years after Armstrong and Aldrin had set Eagle down on the Sea of Tranquillity, Cernan announced their safe arrival at Taurus-Littrow, almost echoing Armstrong's unforgettable words: ''Okay, Houston, the Challenger has landed.'' The two pilots were busy for some time as they shut down and secured Challenger's systems, and exchanged technical data with Capcom Gordon Fullerton. Then, for Schmitt, it was time for a quick peep out of the windows, and there was cause for excitement. They were about 330 feet from a little crater they called Poppy, indicating their touchdown was right on target.

''It hit me what a magnificent place we had landed in. My first view out of the right-hand side, looking northwest across the valley at mountains 6,000 feet high, encompassed only part of a truly breathtaking vista and geologist's paradise. Indeed, one of the most majestic panoramas within the view and experience of humankind confines the Valley of Taurus-Littrow. The roll of dark hills across the valley floor blends with bright slopes that sweep evenly upwards, tracked like snow, to the rocky tops of the massifs 6,000 feet above. The valley does not have the jagged, youthful exuberance of the Himalayas, the layered canyons of the Colorado, the glacially symmetrical fjords of the north countries, or even the now-so-intriguing rifts of

Mars. Rather, it has a subdued and ancient majesty. And we were there and part of it.''8

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