When the crew of Apollo 17 rocketed into space at 12:33 a.m. on December 7, 1972, the American space program was riding high on the success of five previous lunar landings.  At that point, it seemed that nothing was beyond the reach of NASA and it’s astronauts.

Unfortunately, this date marks the last time that man has walked on the moon.  Apollo 17 also marks the last time that manned spacecraft have ventured beyond a low-earth orbit (the area extending to about 1200 miles above the earth’s surface – for reference, the moon is approximately 240,000 miles from Earth).

During three moonwalks, Astronauts Cernan and Schmitt collected approximately 250 pounds of moon rocks and other lunar samples for study upon return to Earth.

Before returning to the lunar module for the final time, Astronaut Gene Cernan shared these words with those of us back on Earth:

“…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.”

On This Day in Time, 43 years ago, NASA was at the pinnacle of manned space travel.

Today, there are few of us who walk with our eyes turned skyward, wondering, when will we return?

1024px-NASA_Apollo_17_Lunar_Roving_Vehicle