Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2006 January 7
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Apollo 17's Moonship
Credit: Apollo 17, NASA (Image scanned by Kipp Teague)

Explanation: Awkward and angular looking, Apollo 17's lunar module Challenger was designed for flight in the vacuum of space. This picture from command module America, shows Challenger's ascent stage in lunar orbit. Small reaction control thrusters are at the sides of the moonship with the bell of the ascent rocket engine underneath. The hatch allowing access to the lunar surface is seen at the front, with a round radar antenna at the top. Mission commander Gene Cernan is just visible through the dark, triangular window. This spaceship performed gracefully, landing on the Moon and returning the Apollo astronauts to the orbiting command module in December of 1972. So where is Challenger now? Its descent stage remains at the Apollo 17 landing site, Taurus-Littrow. The ascent stage was intentionally crashed nearby after being jettisoned from the command module prior to the astronauts' return to planet Earth. Apollo 17's mission was the sixth and last time astronauts have landed on the Moon.

Tomorrow's picture: tadpole

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