It was forty years today (at 22:54:37 UT) that human beings left the moon for the last time. Commander Gene Cernan's last words as stood on the moon were lofty, rehearsed and memorized:
"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."
His real last words uttered on the moon, just before hitting the button that would launch the "Challenger" Lunar Module carrying him and Harrison "Jack" Schmitt back to the orbiting Command Module "America" were more apt for a card-carrying member of the "Right Stuff Club".
"Okay, Jack, let's get this mutha outta here," said Cernan.
Cernan's autobiography "The Last Man on the Moon" is a great read. Among the things you might find surprising: Cernan crashed a Bell B-13 (M*A*S*H) helicopter into still water at Cape Canaveral in January of 1971 nearly killing himself.
He admits he was showboating for people on the beach. Chief Astronaut Deke Slayton covered for him, saying it was a mechanical malfunction. Had the real story come to the attention of Flight Director Chris Kraft, the last man on the moon might very well have been backup commander John Young.
Much to Cernan's chagrin, to this day he still holds that unique title. Why we have not returned is a long, complicated tale of politics and puny thinking.
Will we ever become a truly spacefaring nation? Hard to imagine as our "leaders" march us off the fiscal cliff. Maybe space is the answer. A cliff is meaningless in the absence of gravity.
My good friend Andrew Chaikin wrote the definitive historical account of the Apollo Missions, "A Man on the Moon". It is a must read for anyone interested in space.
Andy, who was there when Apollo 17 launched, has produced a nice video that offers a compelling argument for returning to the moon today. It makes me sad to watch it. But those of us who care about space exploration need to keep reminding the world why this is important.