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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Gene Cernan. Photo courtesy of Heritage Galleries & Auctioneers.
The Saturn rocket lit up the night sky like a torch on Dec. 7, 1972. In a brilliant flash it left the launch pad.

The last mission, Apollo 17, was now on its way to the moon.

The glow of 74 searchlights at Cape Canaveral added to the magic. The blast could be heard from 50 miles away. Half a million Americans were on hand for the grand finale.

History was unfolding right before the world’s eyes. Everyone knew it.

Gene Cernan, the flight’s commander, would set the Lunar Module Challenger down on the eastern shore of the moon’s Sea of Serenity. The landing site was a flat-floored valley four miles wide, bordered on three sides by high mountains. It was a spectacular setting for an unearthly journey.

The landing site was picked because older and younger rocks than those previously returned from Apollo missions might be found. Compared to earlier flights, Apollo 17 astronauts traveled the greatest distance using their Lunar Roving vehicle.

They also brought back the largest amount of rock and soil samples, shot more film and collected more data.

Cernan wanted to take back what it felt like to be on the moon. He knew he would be the last man there for a long time. In the end over 200 pounds of moon came back with him.

He also wanted to remember the experience so he could describe it to people around the world. From the fine texture of the rock and the high mountains to the glowing hillsides and smooth contours of everything around him, Cernan wanted to remember it all.

As he stood on the ladder of the Challenger rocket, geologist Jack Schmitt was already inside, Cernan looked around one final time and said:

”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.”

Inside he prepared for lift off. The countdown reached zero and in a silent explosion the rocket rose into the black sky. It felt just like a high speed elevator to the moonwalkers inside.

In orbit above the moon Cernan brought the Challenger in to dock with the command module and they were reunited with Ron Evans the third astronaut. The mission had gone flawlessly.

How do you top an experience like walking on the moon? Cernan said you don’t. Encores fall so short. He was able, however, to powerfully communicate his experience to audiences all over the world through his lectures.

“It's our destiny to explore. It's our destiny to be a space-faring nation.” That was Cernan’s ultimate message.

If it flew in space, it’s collectible. Baby boomers are big collectors of space artifacts. This is the generation who was glued to their TV sets as it all unfolded. A flown item from Apollo 17 would be the highlight of any boomer’s collection.

On March 25, a selection of Gene Cernan’s flown space objects were offered for sale in Heritage Auction Galleries, Dallas, Texas, Air & Space Auction. Here are some current values.

Gene Cernan Apollo 17 Flight


Flown Personal Spoon; stainless tablespoon; made by Community; engraved next to NASA logo is Gene A. Cernan/Apollo 17 CDR”; 6 ¾ inches long; $7,170.

Flown Personal penlight; brass-milled; two cell flashlight; original batteries inside; $8,365.

Flown Scissors; stainless steel; 8 inches long; $17,925.

Flown Sunglasses and Beta Cloth Case; made by American Optical; 5 ½ inches long; $20,315.

Flown Space Pen; used during the flight, carried in his spacesuit pocket; 5 ¼ inches long; $23,900.

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