Elizabeth Warren Balks at Budget Deal; Sean Trende on Southern Dems' Demise; 12 Days in Space

Elizabeth Warren Balks at Budget Deal; Sean Trende on Southern Dems' Demise; 12 Days in Space

By Carl M. Cannon - December 11, 2014

Good morning, it’s Thursday, December 11, 2014. Forty-two years ago today, former U.S. Navy pilot Eugene Cernan and enterprising geologist Harrison “Jack” Schmitt climbed out of their Apollo 17 command module, America, and into their lunar module, Challenger, which they piloted to a spectacular valley on the edge of the Sea of Serenity.

They explored an area in what is known as the Valley of Taurus-Littrow, and would later head back to their orbiting spaceship, the last human beings to walk on the moon.

“As I step off at the surface of Taurus-Littrow, I'd like to dedicate the first steps of Apollo 17 to all those who made it possible,” Cernan radioed back to Houston.

Then, as he actually stepped onto the moon’s surface, Gene Cernan’s spontaneous emotions took over.  “Oh, my golly,” gushed Apollo 17’s commander. “Unbelievable!”

It certainly seems so now, more than four decades later. I’ll have a further word on mankind’s last mission to the moon in a moment. First, let me refer you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which offers an array of columns and analysis spanning the political spectrum. We also offer a complement of original material from RCP’s reporters and contributors, including the following:

* * * 

Warren Could Block Budget Bill Over Dodd-Frank Change. Caitlin Huey-Burns has the story as the funding deadline approaches. 

Southern Democrat “Extinction” Was Not Inevitable. Sean Trende analyzes the trend that peaked with Mary Landrieu’s loss last weekend. 

Udall Rips CIA, White House on Torture Policy. Caitlin reports on the fiery speech the outgoing Colorado senator made Wednesday. 

The CIA’s Original Sin. In RealClearReligion, Patrick Callahan writes that because of man’s inherent proclivity to violence, absolute prohibitions of torture are needed, and guilt for transgressions must be shared by us all.  

Race and Police Killings Reconsidered. RealClearPolicy editor Robert VerBruggen sifts through new data on a topic that has dominated the headlines recently.

White House Pushing for Computer Science in Schools. Josh Lederman and Kimberly Hefling have the details

December 11, 1941: A Date Which Should Live in Infamy. Craig Shirley revisits the day when America formally entered the war against Germany and Italy. 

Lena Dunham’s Assault on Humanity, Heather Wilhelm offers some thoughts on the “Girls” star’s account of being raped while in college. 

The Top 10 Science Stories of 2014. The RCScience editors compiled this year-end list.

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Ronald E. Evans Jr., the command module pilot on Apollo 17, learned he’d been accepted into NASA’s astronaut program while flying combat missions in Vietnam. In a sense, this was a harbinger. By December 7, 1972, when the Saturn V rocket took off after midnight from the Kennedy Space Center -- the program’s only nighttime launch -- Americans’ attention was on issues other than space travel, including the long, grinding Vietnam War.

In an attempt to maintain civilian interest, not to mention congressional support, NASA finally had given in to National Academy of Science lobbying for inclusion of a geologist on an Apollo flight. This led to the selection of New Mexico-born Jack Schmitt, who had been working with the U.S. Geological Survey in Arizona when the call went out for volunteer scientist-astronauts.

“I thought about 10 seconds and raised my hand,” he later recalled.

Schmitt’s eventual selection as the third man on the Apollo 17 crew meant that Joseph H. Engle, originally recommended by crew assignment director Deke Slayton, was bumped. Cernan and Evans were less than thrilled at the grounding of their fellow test pilot, but Schmitt’s competence soon won them over.

In the end, Cernan and Schmitt spent 75 hours on the moon’s surface, covering some 30 kilometers in their various moon vehicles, and bringing back 243 pounds of moon rocks. The three Apollo 17 astronauts splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on December 19, 1972, and were picked up by the USS Ticonderoga.

In Houston, the men were met at their homes by enthusiastic neighbors, but the rest of America wasn’t riveted in the same way anymore. “You may leave here for four days in space,” sang Barry McGuire, “but when you return it’s the same old place.”

Actually, the crew of Apollo 17 traveled the heavens for 12 days, not four, and knew even before liftoff that they would likely be the last for many years to come. Afterwards, they went on with their lives:

Ron Evans retired from NASA and took a job in Arizona. He was only 56 when he died of a heart attack.

Jack Schmitt’s luck held out, for a while, anyway. He ran for the Senate from New Mexico, winning his maiden campaign in 1976. Six years later, however, his was one of the Republican seats lost because of the now-forgotten “Reagan recession” of 1982.

Gene Cernan, now 80, is still involved in NASA-related educational efforts, and is a proponent of a robust U.S. presence in space. Joe Engle may not have made it to the moon, but he flew aboard the space shuttle and is still flying high performance aircraft -- even though he’s two years older than Cernan.

But let’s give the last word to the commanding officer of Apollo 17. In his autobiography, Gene Cernan expounded on his feelings when he first landed on the moon.

“I lowered my left foot and the thin crust gave way,” he wrote. “Soft contact. There, it was done. A Cernan footprint was on the moon. I had fulfilled my dream. No one could ever take this moment away. I felt comfortable, as if I belonged there. I was standing on God's front porch.”


Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau Chief
@carlcannon (Twitter)

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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