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Dec 6, 2015

Follow the last moon men on their incredible journey

The longest, and last Apollo moon mission took off on its incredible journey nearly 43 years ago, and you can follow every minute of it, and see rarely displayed photos, and hear th

In the vastness of a lunar valley, a sole moon man, Eugene Cernan, retrieves a soil core
In the vastness of a lunar valley, the last moon man, Eugene Cernan, retrieves a soil core

The longest, and last Apollo moon mission took off on its incredible journey nearly 43 years ago, and you can follow every minute of it, and see rarely displayed photos, and hear the raw audios on a remarkable interactive website here.

It’s easier to find than the workplace of its creator, Ben Feist, who is the VP Technology at TAXI, which is a Canadian ad agency that fits in a taxi.

Try Googling Taxi Toronto and see what happens, so its best to go here to find more about them.

But that aside, this is a stunningly wonderful labour of fascination by Ben Feist, and brings totally alive a real space epic that is quite possibly beyond the comprehension of those who see the world through small hand held devices obsessed with gastro-narcissism and a fairy floss diet of manipulative social media feeds.

It also begs the question, when will our species next touch an object further away from earth than the moon, as well as return to the moon itself, and what might that object be?

But pause a moment, or surrender hours to this abundance of information, to contemplate Apollo 17.  This was the last of the Apollo moon missions. In them, 12 spacemen walked on the moon last century, six of them even drove on the its surface, in the case of this expedition, for a total of 35.9 kilometres over three days from the lunar lander Challenger.

Eight of those moon men of the 20th century are alive as of last report, including from Apollo 17, geologist Harrison Schmidtt and astronaut Eugene Cernan, while Ronald Evans, who was taken by a heart attack in 1990, remained alone in lunar orbiter America.

Harrison Schmidtt is the last human to date to have stepped onto the lunar surface, on the floor of the Taurus-Littrow valley, while Eugene Cernan, who followed him into the lunar module just before it blasted off to rendezvous with Evans in America, is the thus the last man to have stood on, and stepped off, the moon.

On the way back Ronald Evans made the last of three spacewalks ever made beyond low earth orbit (all on Apollo missions) to retrieve a package of film from the upper stage of Challenger,  working for 47 minutes in an immense void where both the moon and earth were but small discs against an infinitely large universe.

It is probably easier to grasp what the next deep space mission to land on an object other than earth’s moon will seek to explore, in person, than it is to say ‘when’ with any confidence. It will almost certainly be an asteroid, although it could be a presumed to be inactive comet. There will also be a US space mission to the intangible that is a Lagrange point, gravitational still points located well away from the earth and moon, which can be very useful for building large structures and doing all sorts of scientific and industrial things.

China, Russia and India all seem committed in various measures to a manned lunar expedition, and even the establishment of a base.  Mars continues of course to fascinate space tragics as the separate planet of choice once a number of difficulties are overcome, since the nearest planet to Earth, Venus, is incredibly hot, corrosive and buried under a crushing acid rich atmosphere.

Not that Mars, an asteroid, or a prolonged stay on the moon is quite feasible as yet, but the required technological skills and discoveries are being progressed, and made. It will come to pass, possibly after many of us have passed, and, one might sadly expected, all the Apollo men on the moon have died.

To Ben Feist who has worked so hard to tell the story of last moon men of the 20th century, respect and honor from those of us who remember those days.

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15 thoughts on “Follow the last moon men on their incredible journey

  1. Ben Feist

    Thank you very much for writing about my project. I appreciate your kind words. It really was a huge effort and all I can say is that the spirit in which this article is written is what kept me going over the years. I hope my efforts are enough to cause people to take pause and contemplate the future of human space travel as you have.

    Ben Feist

  2. Damon

    Some great pub quiz questions there! “Who was the last man to stand on the surface of the moon”, “What was the name of the last vehicle to land on the moon”, etc

  3. Glen

    Great site Ben, thanks.

    It reminds that while you couldn’t get to the moon without that old Nazi’s heavy lift rocket — as the Russians comprehensively proved — the real star of the program may have been the little Grumman lunar lander. Six times to the surface and back with barely a glitch*, plus a remarkable mission rescue effort not in the design spec.

    (Apollo 11’s landing software glitch was managed well enough, in part by a 24 year old geek who had enough confidence in his code to call go under pressure, and of course by one seriously competent pilot.)

  4. Glen

    The geek’s name was Jack Garman:

    A short version of the story is here: (Turns out the proximate cause was an error in the ops manuals … what a surprise.)

    One weakness there is the failure to mention the contribution of Margaret Hamilton, who is credited with coining “software engineering”:

  5. jukebox

    Great story Ben (both of you).

    Andrew Smith’s Moondust remains my favourite book telling the story of the men who walked on the moon. Essential reading, IMO.

  6. Grizzly

    I’ve long believed that Apollo 17 was the “Best. Spaceflight. Ever.” It had everything:

    – a Commander who’d nearly been kicked off the trip because he’d crashed a helicopter while showing off;
    – a Vietnam vet, as CM pilot;
    – the only scientist astronaut to land on the moon, as LM pilot;
    – a spectacular night time liftoff;
    – the blue marble earth image;
    – the John Wayne spacewalk image;
    – the record for time spent on the lunar surface;
    – the distance record for Lunar Rover driving;
    – successful repair of a mishap with the Lunar Rover’s fender;
    – the orange soil discovery;
    – a spectacular liftoff from the moon recorded by tv camera;
    – completion of all significant mission objectives almost exactly as planned;
    – and, best of all, the best Apollo-era soundtrack – “I was strolling on the moon one day … in the very merry month of … December … no, May! (etc, etc)”

    Meanwhile, here in Oz, media attention was distracted from these truly awesome achievements by the almost simultaneous election of the the “It’s time” mob of fools, who then proceeded to lay waste to Australia until Sir John Kerr saved us from them nearly three years later …

    To the crew of Apollo 17 and to Ben Feist: I salute you!!!

  7. Ben Feist

    Thank you for the kind words. I couldn’t agree more that it was the pinnacle of the Apollo missions. I hadn’t realized that that photo was known as the John Wayne photo. I almost used it as the cover photo for the site before going with Tracy’s rock. Oh, that reminds me, I made this 3d reconstruction of Tracy’s Rock using the mission photos. You might find it interesting.

  8. Glen

    You mean the mob of fools who gave us 50-year persisting reforms like federal corporations law, federal consumer law, no fault divorce, the Family Court, dismantling of protectionism, the Federal Court (enacted by Fraser), federal environmental legislation, the Great Barrier Reef marine park, end of conscription, territory senators, federal private schools funding, the National Gallery, Triple-J, 18-year old voting, the national anthem, the Order of Australia, anti-discrimination law, diplomatic relations with China, and of course universal health insurance … all in an interval not a whole lot longer than Mr Abbott was in office. Yep, clearly fools.

    (Sorry Ben, delete if you want.)

  9. George Glass

    Brilliant website. Brought tears to my eyes. I was one of the tragics still watching by Apollo 17.Believe it or not most of the public had lost interest by then.Very sad that my children will probably never know the thrill of those times.Great work Ben.

  10. Danno Cadron

    ” doing all sorts of scientific and industrial things.’

    That is what we were promised in the 1960s as the reason for going to the Moon.

    But it did not happen.

    And for more than 40 years there have been no reported trips to the Moon but now the US plans to go back in about 2020.

    Odd really.

  11. Crocodile Chuck

    “the real star of the program may have been the little Grumman lunar lander. Six times to the surface and back with barely a glitch*, plus a remarkable mission rescue effort not in the design spec” [snip]

    I’ll never forget reading [Apollo 13] how Charles Duke had to warn Jack Swigert [while all three were avoiding the condensation in the Command Module by huddling in the little LM] to take care to avoid punching a hole in the bulkhead [the aluminium was THAT thin, for weight saving].

    Epic voyages by intrepid, well trained adventurers in an era when the country believed in itself, and what it could do.

    May we see these times again.

  12. Grizzly

    Ben Feist #7: I used the John Wayne photo as wallpaper on my pc for quite a while – it is so inspirational.

    Glen #8: The main “achievement” of the Whitlam cabinet was in spending taxpayers’ money like it was going out of style. Forty five years later, we still haven’t recovered from that. And then there was Lionel Murphy’s raid on ASIO, Jim Cairns/Junie Morosi, the Terrigal ALP conference, Rex Connor trying to borrow money from both Khemlani and Saddam Hussein, etc, etc. So it’s little wonder that even Whitlam thought the cabinet that caucus imposed on him was a mob of fools. At least JFK and LBJ spent their taxpayers’ money on NASA, which was something really worthwhile.

  13. Burke Stephens

    Great article Mr Sandilands and thanks for the website Mr Feist.

    Just out of curiosity, has anyone here ever seen a Saturn V launch? That would’ve been an amazing thing to witness and of course 17’s launch at night would have been stupendous.

    One of my favourite photos is of Gene Cernan in the LM; I think after the final walk, he looks exhausted and exhilarated.

    Recently on youtube I happened to come across some NASA training films for the astronauts which explained the orbital mechanics of navigating to the moon (given it was the 60s, the instructor had a big plastic model earth and moon and perspex rings to depict the orbital paths – what a neat toy for the office!) but more amazing was the one describing the re-entry profile and how the astronaut (Command Module Pilot) had to fly it. The tolerances were wafer thin, those guys had exceptional flying skill and courage.

    The Apollo program was a vast endeavour that gave hundreds of thousands of people the opportunity to participate in something unique.

  14. AR

    I am constantly puzzled with the talk of a Mars mission which ignores the obvious benefits of an old established settlement on the Moon.
    Why are we not concentrating on that – Mar missions would be better launched from there and the crews acclimatised to low before the zero gravity.

  15. mikeb

    How did Stanley Kubrick put this together? Oh wait – he faked his own death as well?