December 14, 2022 | David F. Coppedge

The Last and Lasting Footprint on the Moon

50 years ago, Harrison Schmitt left the last footprint on the moon,
but he is leaving tracks of an independent thinker on Earth.


— As Schmitt speaks at Apollo 17 celebrations at age 87, his other tracks should be remembered —

On December 14, 1972, Harrison Schmitt and Eugene Cernan climbed aboard the lunar module Challenger after leaving the last human footprints (or footprints of any living being, for that matter), on the lunar surface. Within hours they would reunite with command module pilot Ronald Evans, ditch the LM to crash on the moon, and ride home to a successful splashdown on December 19th. It was a great achievement, but the political turmoil from the Watergate scandal the previous June, and the national unrest over the Vietnam war, obscured the glory that the final Apollo moon mission deserved.

Apollo Accomplishments

Harrison Schmitt digs subsurface lunar samples while Gene Cernan looks on. Apollo 17 artwork by Alan Bean, Apollo 12 astronaut.

Schmitt is the last surviving member of the Apollo 17 crew. On their lunar rover, Harrison Schmitt and Gene Cernan traveled farther than any previous astronauts. NASA gives the numbers:

They remained on the lunar surface for 75 hours, the longest visit yet. With the help of their rover, they clocked 22 hours of EVA time during which they traveled more than 22 miles (about 36 kilometers), ranging as far as 4.6 miles (7.4 kilometers) from Challenger, just about at the limit of what was considered the walk-back distance in case the rover failed during an excursion.

They deployed or conducted 10 science experiments, including the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) suite of instruments, took more than 2,000 photographs and collected about 243 pounds (110 kilograms) of soil and rock samples at 22 different sites.

Gene Cernan (Apollo 17) holds up a multicolored rock with an assortment of minerals. Art by Alan Bean.

Schmitt’s discovery of “orange soil” on the moon indicated recent volcanism had occurred in the Taurus-Littrow region where the LM landed. Of this, Schmitt said,

All of that turned out to be volcanic ash as it turned out to be a very important sample of volcanic activity and of volatile activity of gases coming out of the interior of the moon. And that has really changed our thinking about the origin of the moon because of the presence of these volatile components deep within the moon.

Another famous rock among the 243 pounds of lunar samples he and Cernan collected at 22 sites indicated that the moon once had a magnetic field. Schmitt accepts the consensus long ages for the moon, but these two evidences were surprising in that they indicated that the moon was active far longer than had been expected.


On the way home, the crew took the famous “Blue Marble” photograph of Earth that has achieved iconic status.

Europa (top) compared to Earth and Mars. Earth image is the “Blue Marble” photo taken by Apollo 17 astronauts.

Political and Scientific Views

The only scientist of the 12 moon walkers, Harvard geologist Harrison Schmitt went on to become a U.S. Senator from New Mexico. He remained involved with NASA as a proponent of manned spaceflight and the privatization of space. As discussed in our July 30 entry, Schmitt’s independent streak put him in conflict with much of academia and the political Left:

  • He was a Republican and a Constitutional conservative.
  • He criticized the  “Government-Science Complex”
  • He warned about the capture of K-12 education by the political left.
  • He attacked the “global warming scare” as “a political tool to increase government control over American lives.”

One can expect any statements made during the Apollo 17 50th Anniversary to avoid these details, which would make many in the secular media and in academia uncomfortable. Most likely, the interviews with Schmitt this year will focus entirely on his memories of the mission, like this one at Huntsville.

Only six of the Apollo moonwalkers are still living, all in their late 80s or early 90s. They are fortunate to see NASA’s long-delayed effort to return humans to the moon with the new Artemis program. Artemis I, testing the new powerful SLS rocket and the unmanned Orion lunar orbiter, just completed its mission with great success through launch (November 16), orbit and splashdown on Sunday December 11. If all goes according to plan, Artemis II will take a crew into lunar orbit in 2023, and Artemis III will land astronauts on the moon in 2024.

Creation scientists have found much data to mine from the Apollo samples that goes against evolutionary theories about moon formation and the age of the moon. Examples:

  • ICR article by Duane Gish about Apollo findings
  • ICR article by Brian Thomas about lunar magnetism
  • Answers in Genesis article by Danny Faulkner on lunar origin theories
  • CMI article by Russell Humphreys about moon’s magnetic field
  • CMI article by Jonathan Sarfati and spiritual dimensions of the Apollo missions

Personal Glimpses

I have long been an enthusiast of the American space program since I saw Sputnik in the sky as a child. I followed all the missions in the Gemini, Mercury and Apollo programs, and the unmanned missions to the planets. I especially enjoyed my 14-year stint at NASA-JPL and participant as an IT team leader for the Cassini Mission, despite the unhappy ending in 2013.

Alan Bean autographTo help celebrate the final moon mission of Apollo 17, I invite our readers to watch a performance of the “Apollo March” I wrote for the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11, premiered by the U.S. Air Force Band of the Golden West in 2019. Another version of the Apollo March music features paintings by Alan Bean (1932-2018), Apollo 12 astronaut. When I saw him at JPL in 1998 and got his autograph for a copy of his book Apollo: An Eyewitness Account, he warmly gave me verbal permission to use his artwork any way I wished.

I also have autographs of three moon walkers: Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11), Alan Bean (Apollo 12) and John Irwin (Apollo 15). Irwin was a Christian and creationist. He explored Mt. Ararat in searches for Noah’s Ark, and conducted other expeditions to archaeological sites looking for evidence supporting the historicity of the Bible.

Irwin book on Mt Ararat with autograph


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