19 December 1972: At 2:25 p.m. EST—12 days, 13 hours, 51 minutes, 59 seconds after departing the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida—the Apollo 17 command module America (CM-112) returned to Earth, splashing down in the South Pacific Ocean, approximately 350 miles (563 kilometers) southeast of Samoa. The three 83 foot, 6 inch diameter (25.451 meters) ring sail main parachutes had deployed at an altitude of 10,500 feet (3,200 meters) and slowed the capsule to 22 miles per hour (35.4 kilometers per hour) before it hit the ocean’s surface.
The landing had a high degree of accuracy, coming within 4.0 miles (6.44 kilometers) of the recovery ship, the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga (CVS-14).
The flight crew was picked up by a Sikorsky SH-3G Sea King helicopter, Bu. No. 149930, of HC-1, and transported to Ticonderoga. The three astronauts, Eugene A. Cernan, Ronald A. Evans and Harrison H. Schmitt, stepped aboard the aircraft carrier 52 minutes after splashdown.
The splashdown of Apollo 17 brought to an end the era of manned exploration of the Moon which had begun just 3 years, 3 days, 5 hours, 52 minutes, 59 seconds earlier with the launch of Apollo 11.
Only 12 men have set foot on The Moon. In 46 years, no human has returned.
14 December 1972: At 4:54:36 p.m., CST (Houston time), the Ascent Stage of the Apollo 17 Lunar Module Challenger lifted off from the landing site in the Taurus-Littrow Valley, The Moon. On board were Mission Commander Eugene A. Cernan and the LM Pilot, Harrison H. Schmitt.
The two Astronauts had been on the surface of the Moon for 3 days, 2 hours, 59 minutes, 40 seconds. During that time they made three excursions outside the lunar lander, totaling 22 hours, 3 minutes 57 seconds.
Apollo 17 was the last manned mission to the Moon in the Twentieth Century. Gene Cernan was the last man to stand on the surface of the Moon.
13 December 1972: At approximately 22:26 UTC, NASA Astronauts Eugene A. Cernan and Harrison H. Schmitt began the last of three moon walks, or EVAs, on the surface of the Moon at the Taurus-Littrow Valley.
“Bob, [Robert A.P. Parker, Astronaut, Houston Mission Control Cap Com]this is Gene, and I’m on the surface; and, 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.”
— Astronaut Eugene Andrew Cernan, Captain, USN, at the Taurus Littrow Valley, The Moon, at Mission Time 170:40:00
This was the final EVA of the Apollo Program, lasting approximately 7 hours, 15 minutes. Then Harrison H. Schmitt and Gene Cernan climbed up into the Lunar Module Challenger to prepare to lift off the following day.
Gene Cernan was the last man to stand on the surface of the Moon.