Depending where in the world you are, today, July 20, (or tomorrow, 21 July, if you're on Universal Time) marks the 34th Anniversary of the zenith of NASA's Apollo Program - and probably the greatest achievement of mankind of all time - the stepping of Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong onto the surface of the Moon at location known as the Sea of Tranquility.
The words spoken by Armstrong are well-known enough not to be repeated here again, but perhaps less well-known are the words of Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan as he prepared to board his Lunar Module for the final time on December 14, 1972, becoming the last man to stand on the surface of the Moon:
... as I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come - but we believe not too long into the future - I'd like to just (say) what I believe history will record. That America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. "Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17."
30½ years after Cernan's statement, 18 of the original 24 Apollo astronauts who journeyed to the Moon and back are still alive, all in their late 60s and early 70s, and have little prospect of seeing any successors follow in their still-preserved footprints on our planet's only cosmic satellite.
An excellent resource for the Apollo program is on the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum website: http://www.nasm.si.edu/apollo/apollo.htm
/ Andrew D
Some miscellaneous bits of information about the Apollo missions:
Nine Apollo missions went to the Moon, but only six made landings: Apollo 8 (Frank Borman) was a lunar orbit mission, to confirm that it was possible to go there and back, and Apollo 10 (Thomas Stafford) was a "full dress rehearsal" without the actual landing. Apollo 13 (James Lovell), well everyone knows what happened there, leaving Apollos 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 as the lunar landing missions. Apollo 7 (Walter Schirra) and Apollo 9 (James McDivitt) were practice missions that never left Earth orbit. Apollo 4, 5, & 6 were unmanned missions. There was no Apollo 2 or 3. Apollo 1 was a name given afterwards to the mission which never took off after the launching pad fire claimed the lives of astronauts Grissom, White, and Chaffee.
It is widely believed that, had the fatal Apollo 1 accident not occured, the honour of leading the first lunar landing mission would have been given to Gus Grissom, one of the original 7 astronauts recruited in 1959 (the guys the movie The Right Stuff focussed on). In the event, only Alan Shepard (the first American in orbit) of that original group of 7 ever made a lunar landing (Apollo 14).
Just prior to making the speech noted above, Gene Cernan (who was one of three astronauts to go to the Moon twice: Apollo 10 & 17) marked out the initials of his daughter Tracey in the lunar dust, making her the only woman whose initials are "graffittied" on the Moon.
The backup crew for Apollo 17 was the crew of Apollo 16. When the last three missions were cancelled by Congress (Apollos 18 - 20), many astronauts resigned from NASA in 1970/1 leaving them with a diminshed pool to select from, and easiest solution for the last mission was to have the previous mission's crew as the backup.
Who was the last man on the Moon? Harrison "Jack" Schmitt was the last astronaut to step onto the lunar surface for the first time, but Eugene "Gene" Cernan was the last astronaut to step off the lunar surface. The final set of footprints were Cernan's and thus the honour is definitely his, despite what Jack Schmitt might say