The final countdown of the Apollo 17 mission was a chaotic affair.
It began just after midnight, when controllers decided to use the first of four landing legs to bring down the capsule, and then a final touchdown on the lunar surface.
That second leg, known as “Soyuz,” took only two minutes to complete, and the rest of the countdown was a matter of seconds.
The rocket landed on the pad of the Soyuz spacecraft, and with that came a brief moment of silence for the men and women who had just made history.
For several minutes, a silent silence was heard across the planet.
But it was the sound of cheers.
“All right, all right,” a crew member called out to a colleague.
“We’ve got it!”
It was the first time that the Apollo astronauts had made history on the surface of the moon.
The roar of the landing rocket was the loudest it had been since Apollo 1 in 1972.
“There was a great, great noise coming from the landing pad,” retired NASA engineer Bill Johnson told me.
Johnson was a pilot on the Apollo 11 mission.
The astronauts made their way back to the capsule after about 10 minutes, and a moment later, the roar of their rocket’s engines was audible over the airwaves, and they were in orbit.
“It was a very, very loud day,” Johnson said.
“They were flying very low.”
They were also flying at an altitude of about 1,000 feet.
NASA astronaut John Young, who flew the first manned flight to the moon, remembers the noise coming through the headset of his helmet.
He remembers a loud roar that lasted just a few seconds.
“I just saw a huge cloud of smoke,” Young said.
Young’s helmet was also blown out during the descent.
The crew was told to use oxygen masks and be careful not to breathe in the exhaust.
The oxygen masks were meant to be designed to take away any trace of oxygen that could be seen, but it didn’t work.
“When we got to the surface, I could see the clouds of smoke on the moon,” Johnson recalled.
“But the oxygen masks didn’t do anything to it.
They didn’t really take away anything.
They did nothing to protect us.”
When the moon fell behind the Earth, the crew of Apollo 17 had to abandon the landing site and head toward the moon’s equator, where the heat of the sun was enough to melt the ice and create a lake of vapor.
“The crew didn’t know where to go,” Johnson told the Los Angeles Times.
“So we took off in an ice plane and headed toward the equator.”
The landing pad and landing strip were empty.
NASA’s Apollo 17 commander, Jack Swigert, was among those aboard the Soyu capsule, which was carrying two astronauts, Michael Collins and Ed White.
Swigart had just landed the last Soyuz capsule to land on the Moon.
Swigs task was to find a way back through the moon to get to the launch pad.
He found himself on a steep slope that led to a small clearing, where a group of people was watching the descent through a telescope.
It was a little too far for him to walk.
“Jack Swigarts hand on the control wheel just hit a button,” Swigts daughter said.
Swiggert had the right hand on his wheel, but he could not reach the button.
“You know, it was a tough time for the astronauts,” Swigs wife said.
He eventually got the control stick to the right side of the control panel, and he pressed it.
“And I think I pressed it hard enough to get a couple of big bangs,” Swiggts daughter recalled.
The explosion sent Swigstarts arm spinning through the air, and Swigestar got his arm stuck in the wheel, which caused it to spin out of control.
He was thrown back a few feet, and as the wheel spun out of his control, he heard the explosion.
“He had to get out of the wheel,” his wife said, “and he just kept going,” Johnson explained.
Swiger was badly hurt and needed stitches to close his wounds.
He would spend months in the hospital recovering.
The mission was over, but the impact on Swigsts mind had lasting consequences.
“One of the first things I did after landing was read all of the flight logs,” Swiger said.
The logs showed that Swigests reaction to the crash was very different than that of his wife.
He didn’t want to get into trouble, but was also scared.
“At that point, it became a bit of a burden for me to have to explain what had happened,” SwIGers wife said to me.
Swiglert, who was then stationed at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Denver, would spend years in the psychiatric hospital, eventually spending several months in a rehabilitation facility.
“As a consequence of what I had done, I never