Date: July 21. Time: 02:56:15 UTC. 40 years have passed since the moment in which approximately half a billion people worldwide watched in awe as Neil Armstrong said those immortal words taking the first step on another world.
The first words on the lunar surface actually belong to the Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Buzz Aldrin. At 20:17:39.9 UTC just moments before the touchdown, Aldrin informed Armstrong of the “Contact Light” – meaning that at least one of the 1.73 meter-long probes hanging from three of the footpads has touched the surface.
At 03:15:16 UTC Buzz joined Neil out on the surface. They examined the LM, placed the TV camera away from the spacecraft, deployed scientific instruments (seismometer, laser reflectors, solar wind collectors, etc) and started to familiarize themselves with working in one-sixth gravity. The first lunar Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA) lasted for 2 hours 31 minutes and 40 seconds. After closing the hatch and stoving samples and equipment, the crew had a 5-hour resting period. The LM’s ascent engine fired at 17:54:00 UTC leaving the first footsteps of men behind in Tranquility Base.
Despite the tremendous achievement of the Apollo program, we can consider ourselves to be only temporary visitors to Moon. The 12 days 11 hours and 28 minutes of presence on the surface combined from the six successful missions are shorter than a summer vacation for most of us. The 12 astronauts whose footprints will remain in lunar “soil” for eons, total for even shorter 80 hours and 28 minutes spent outside the LM during 14 EVA’s between Apollo 11 and Apollo 17.
Unfortunately, the public lost interested in Apollo Program not much later than politicians who saw the Kennedy’s challenge met. Have it not been for the accident that nearly cost lives of Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and John Swigert, Apollo 13 would most likely not get a second of live TV. Ultimately, the splashdown of Apollo 17 on December 19, 1972 meant the end of glorious days of lunar exploration. Nevertheless, hardly anyone would have thought that the words of Gene Cernan
Okay, Jack, let’s get this mutta outta here
a few seconds before Apollo 17 LM’s lift-off from the Valley of Taurus-Littrow, would be that the last from the lunar surface in the 20th century.