Forty-two years have passed since astronaut Eugene Cernan, commander of the Apollo 17 mission and the last man to leave the surface of the moon, traced his 9-year-old daughter Tracy's initials in the lunar dust. Upon his final return to the lunar module on Dec. 13, 1972, Cernan reflected upon the historical significance of the visit, as transcribed in NASA's mission records: "America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. As we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17."
At dawn Dec. 5, as America's new Orion spacecraft lifted off on its first unmanned test flight from the same launch complex used to send Apollo 17 on its way, a new era of American space exploration began.
After a decades-long hiatus, the United States is poised once again for an eventual return trip to the moon, or Mars, or perhaps the planets beyond.
Once again, the percussive roar of powerful rockets will fill the Florida skies, mixed with the sounds of cheers and jubilation, carrying greater dreams for all mankind, and forging the destiny of tomorrow.