SANS June 2019 meeting: 50th anniversary of the first moon landings
To celebrate the historic event of Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin
becoming the first people to walk on the surface of our moon in July 1969, SANS screened a
56 minute documentary on the final Apollo mission which took place in late 1972. Titled
‘Apollo 17: The Untold Story Of The Last Men On The Moon’, the documentary was
produced in 2012 by American Public Television and takes viewers through the remarkable
closing events of NASA’s three-and-a-half year lunar programme.
The story has its origins in the commitment made by President John F. Kennedy on 25 May
1961, when he dedicated resources of the United States to reaching the moon and launched
Project Apollo — the greatest technological undertaking in the history of humanity. The
programme culminated in the Apollo 11 mission, on 20 July 1969, when humans reached the
lunar surface for the first time. However, only two years after Neil Armstrong first walked on
the moon, public and political interest in Apollo had dwindled. The final moon landing
occurred in December 1972.
In July 2012 American Public Television-distributed documentary "Apollo 17: The Untold
Story Of The Last Men On The Moon," was broadcast to commemorate that final voyage in
the series of lunar explorations. The documentary featured spectacular NASA footage and
exclusive interviews with space scientists, some of whom worked on the Apollo program
during the 1960s and 1970s. The scientists who appeared are all British, giving this
documentary a unique perspective on the impact the space program had upon America and
Apollo 17 carried the only trained geologist to walk on the lunar surface, lunar module pilot
Harrison Schmitt. Compared to previous lunar missions the astronauts of Apollo 17
traversed the greatest distance using the Lunar Roving Vehicle, and they returned the
greatest amount of rock and soil samples. Ronald Evans, command module pilot holds the
record for the most time spent in lunar orbit, and Eugene Cernan commander of the mission
still holds the distinction of being the last man to walk on the Moon's surface.
‘Apollo 17: The Untold Story Of The Last Men On The Moon’ is the remarkable story of the
determination and courage of a generation, a tribute to three brave astronauts and the
thousands of men and women behind them during the final days of NASA’s Apollo program.
The documentary also discussed an important photographic relic of that expedition, known
as the ‘Blue Marble’ image. Unlike earlier composite photographs, this one is one of the few
to show an almost fully illuminated Earth as the astronauts had the Sun behind them when
they took the photograph on the way to the Moon.
The ‘Blue Marble’ image was taken at 05h39 on 7 December 1972, using a hand-held
Hasselblad camera. A remarkably cloud-free Africa is at upper left, stretching down to the
centre of the image. Asia is on the horizon is at upper right. This translunar coast photograph
extends from the Mediterranean Sea area to the Antarctica South polar ice cap. This is the
first time the Apollo trajectory made it possible to photograph the South polar ice cap. The
Earth is 12,740 km in diameter. To the astronauts, the slightly gibbous Earth had the
appearance and size of a glass marble, hence the name. (Apollo 17, AS17-148-22727).