Setting Off For The Final Time

At 12:33 a.m., two hours and forty minutes behind schedule, Apollo 17 finally soared aloft in a radiant display of sight and sound, the combined plume of fire from the Saturn V's five F1 engines turning night into day around Cape Kennedy. "You're

The Last Apollo Launch
The view from the launch tower as Apollo 17 lifts off for the Moon.

right down the 'pike', 17,'' Capcom Gordon Fullerton informed the crew. The astronauts had been strapped into their Command Module America for five hours, not knowing if they would fly that day due to a succession of technical delays. The first launch attempt had ended dramatically with only thirty seconds remaining in the countdown, when the terminal countdown sequencer detected that the liquid oxygen tank on the Saturn's third stage had not automatically pressurised. At first, it was feared that the crew might have to evacuate the Command Module and even use the emergency slide wires to get away from a potentially dangerous situation, but the cause was quickly discovered and the crew notified to stay put. The tank was eventually pressurised manually, and the countdown resumed at T-22 minutes.

Now, as the three exultant astronauts finally headed into space, people for hundreds of miles around cheered the mighty Saturn V as it blazed a brilliant path into the dark skies, lighting up the Florida east coast.

Because of the delay, controllers decided to burn the third stage of the Saturn V six seconds longer than planned when setting Apollo 17 on a course for the Moon after two Earth orbits. Later, following the firing of their third-stage engine, Command Module America was smoothly docked with Lunar Module Challenger in preparation for NASA's final and most difficult chapter in the exploration of the Moon. Four-and-a-half hours after lift-off, the crew was 15,000 miles from Earth and travelling at 10,873 miles per hour on their eighty-six-hour coast to the Moon. Fourteen hours after they had been strapped into America back at the Cape, the crew finally settled down to grab a few hours' sleep.

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