Space, The Final Frontier

Apollo 17 Lunar Roving Vehicle

The Apollo lunar-landing programme ended on December 19th, 1972, when the last three astronauts to travel to the moon splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean. Apollo 17 had lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, 10 days before and marked the end of spaceflight to the moon. In July 1969, after three years of preparation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) accomplished President John F. Kennedy’s goal of putting a man on the moon and safely returning him to Earth with Apollo 11. From 1969 to 1972, there were six successful lunar landing missions, and one aborted mission with the ill-fated Apollo 13.

Although Apollo 17 was the last actual lunar landing, the last official Apollo mission was conducted in July 1975, when an Apollo spacecraft successfully rendezvoused and docked with the Soviet Soyuz 19 spacecraft in orbit around the Earth. It was fitting that the Apollo programme, which first visited the moon under the banner of "We came in peace for all mankind," should end on a note of peace and international cooperation and not as an example of the space race between America and Russia.

Today space exploration is still high on the agenda of many organisations. NASA has announced a vision of future spaceflight predicting the return of humans to the moon by 2020 in order to prepare for visits to Mars and, possibly, beyond and, in May 2014, the company Mars 1 announced its intention to establish a permanent settlement on the Red Planet. History has been built upon exploration like this and the curiosity that drives it is fundamentally human. The oceans and the universe fascinate us the most – inner space and outer space. We are born with the ability to discover the secrets of the universe and of our own minds and with the drive to explore and experiment until we do. However, exploration need not only be the province of the intrepid – we can all explore ideas, art, music, emotions, ways of communication and life itself – as exploration is a way of learning that spans all time periods and all cultures. See what you can discover.

Ray Henshaw