Welcoming the Apollo 11 crew back to Earth, President Richard M. Nixon told them "This is the greatest week in the history of the world since the Creation. As a result of what you have done, the world's never been closer together. We can reach for the stars just as you have reached so far for the stars." The astronauts were heros and the icons of a devastating strike against the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

HEROES. The Apollo 11 astronauts were rewarded with a ticker tape parade in New York City.

There were more Apollo missions and others walked on the Moon. But with Apollo 17, from December 7-December 19, 1972 the U.S. lunar program eventually came to an end. The last human to set foot on the Moon was also the first scientist to do so, geologist Harrison Schmitt. Like the Apollo 11 astronauts, this crew also left behind a plaque attached to their lander. It read: "Here Man completed his first exploration of the Moon, December 1972 A.D. May the spirit of peace in which we came be reflected in the lives of all mankind."

With it, for a time, died the dream of permanent moon bases and humanity's thrust into space. Today, there is again a glimmer of optimism, as the International Space Station takes shape in orbit and the discovery of water on the moon by unmanned spacecraft affirms the feasibility of lunar colonization.

Even so, after 30 years, the three astronauts of Apollo 11 must wonder why being first has also left them so close to being the last. Are we celebrating the past at the expense of looking to the future?

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