50 years ago, U.S. astronauts landed on the moon. None have been back since NASA's Apollo 17 mission sent three astronauts to the moon, 50 years ago this week. It was the final journey for the prolific Apollo program.

50 years ago, U.S. astronauts landed on the moon. None have been back since

50 years ago, U.S. astronauts landed on the moon. None have been back since

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Eugene Cernan salutes the U.S. flag during his moonwalk in 1972. No one else has been there since Apollo 17 left. NASA hide caption

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NASA

Eugene Cernan salutes the U.S. flag during his moonwalk in 1972. No one else has been there since Apollo 17 left.

NASA

Listen to the full audio story to hear NPR's archival audio from the Apollo 17 mission.

Fifty years ago this week, on Dec. 11, 1972, two U.S. astronauts set foot on the moon. None have gone back since.

The mission was Apollo 17 — the last flight for NASA's prolific Apollo program.

Astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison "Jack" Schmitt touched down in a valley called Taurus-Littrow, which NASA has likened to the Grand Canyon. Command module pilot Ronald Evans orbited above them.

Cernan and Schmitt spent most of their time collecting almost 250 pounds worth of moon rocks and soil samples. But the scientific research didn't stop them from enjoying themselves: The astronauts at one point belted out a now-famous rendition of "The Fountain in the Park," a 19th-century vaudeville song, all while skipping along in the moon's low gravity.

The end of the Apollo lunar missions put the U.S. space program into a period of transition. Questions swirled about when — or if — NASA would send crews back to the lunar surface.

Before beginning the long journey home, Cernan radioed back to mission control in Houston, one last time.

"As we leave the moon and Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came — and God willing as we shall return: with peace, and in hope, for all mankind," Cernan said.

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