4.9.0 - Apollo 17 Introduction

Apollo 17 was launched at 05:33 on 07/12/72, the only night launch of the Apollo series. It performed LOI at 19:47 on the 10th. The last two astronauts to walk on the lunar surface, Gene Cernan (who also took part in Apollo 10's rehearsal mission) and Jack Schmitt (the only scientist to walk on the moon) landed at 19:55 on the 11th. The lunar surface was departed for the final time at 22:55 on the 14th, and the crew finally landed back on Earth on the 19th. The timeline for the mission can be found here: NASA timeline. The utterly superb Apollo 17 in Real Time has also proved invaluable.

During the journey, and the three EVAs of the lunar landing, 23 magazines of film exposed 3584 photographs, the majority of these being sequences on board the LRV used in exploring the surface. Eight magazines containing 404 images were also taken using a Nikon 35mm camera. The mapping camera contained one sequence showing an Earthrise. The majority of the images are available in high quality at the AIA and/or ALSJ sites, but some have had to be requested from GAP. Archive.org also contains some high resolution scans of the more famous images. Video footage will also be used, and referenced as appropriate, including stills from the 16mm footage.

There is a change in satellite for this mission, with NOAA 2 being the main source of information. The meteorological data catalogue for the mission can be found here: Hathitrust source. This satellite provides images in the visible and infra-red (IR) spectra. Visible spectrum images will be preferred, but IR images will be used where necessary and/or appropriate. The data catalogue for this satellite is also interesting in that it does not give timings of orbits. Instead, it gives the time in GMT on longitude lines. The visible spectrum satellite day is still run from around the east coast of Africa onwards , and therefore it is assumed that the weather patterns to the east of this line as far as the west coast of the Americas will be dated the day after the date of the image. The IR night time images seem to start in the Atlantic with the date on the image being appropriate for the whole image. Where digitally restored NOAA data are available and they’re helpful, they’ll be used as well.

Surprisingly, there are very few other sources for satellite data for this mission, despite other countries launching their own missions. NIMBUS 5 data became available for the latter part of the mission but is of little use. One instrument on board (the Electrically Scanning Microwave Radiometer, which measured microwave radiation from the Earth’s surface) did have data covering images on the lunar surface but as will be seen later are difficult to interpret. Those data can be found here. Other satellites do not have a comprehensive data catalogue. As usual, however, there are other individual sources that may prove useful, and at least demonstrate (again) that the satellite images were readily available.

Satellite activities of NOAA 1972, for example, contains images from December 7th, 11th and 18th, all covering small areas of the north-east of north America, but none of which would prove of any use. This Journal of Applied Meteorology article has a NIMBUS 5 image of the US east coast down to Florida from December 13th, but again there was no opportunity to use it. NIMBUS 5 was launched on the 11th of December and early images were tests, but the data catalogue for it does not start until the 19th. The MWL provides, as ever, useful images of a tropical storm (Therese) on the 7th, which occupied the north Pacific for the first half of the mission, and also of Tropical Storm Violet on the 13th. DAPP satellite images also exist for the 13th of central America in this military publication, but this region does not seem to be covered by Apollo images on that day. We have a recorded DMSP image in this publication for the 16th and that does get used.

Therese can also be seen on December 6th in a couple of places, notably the MWL and the Annual Typhoon Report, and while these are from before the launch, they are interesting in that they come from the DAPP satellite. This journal article has some sections of ATS-III images of Puerto Rico, but again the area isn’t photographed by Apollo on the relevant dates.

One ESSA image has been found, thanks to an Army veterans' site covering life on Midway Island. The ESSA 8 image is clearly identified as being from December 11th 1972, but no other details are available – the image was sent to the website for posting, and the site owner has no further details about it.

We also have for the first time images taken by NASA’s Landsat satellite. Landsat 1 (originally named Earth Resources Technology Satellite 1) was launched in July 1972 not to observe the weather but to examine terrestrial resources and land-use. It was based on the NIMBUS-4 weather satellite and had the capability to produce colour images. Images are available throughout the mission (sourced from http:\\earthexplorer.gov.), and will be used where appropriate.

As with previous missions, digitally recovered satellite data is available and will be used where possible.

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Intro Day 2 - 08/12/72 Day 3 - 09/12/72 Day 4 - 10/12/72 Day 5 - 11/12/72 Day 6 - 12/12/72 Day 7 - 13/12/72 Day 8 - 14/12/72 Day 09 - 15/12/72 Day 10 - 16/12/72 Day 11 - 17/12/72 Day 13 - 13/12/72 Synoptic