Project Apollo was the third human spaceflight programme carried out by NASA which succeeded in landing the first humans – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin – on the Moon. In doing so, the two legendary astronauts fulfilled President John F Kennedy’s goal of landing man on the Moon by the end of the Sixties and brought an end to the Space Race with the Soviet Union. Five subsequent Apollo missions also took astronauts to the lunar surface until the last, Apollo 17 – and in these six spaceflights, 12 people walked on the foreign body.
But, ‘NASA’s Unexplained Files’ revealed how scientists were briefly left scratching their heads when it appeared that another, unknown spacewalk had taken place.
The Quest TV documentary detailed: “Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt is one of the last men to step foot on the lunar surface.
“A geologist by profession, he collects over 700 lunar samples on the longest moonwalk in history.
“To cover ground quickly, he came up with his own, unique way of moonwalking.
Mysterious markings were spotted on the Moon
Apollo 11 landed the first men on the Moon
“To make the most of their time, Schmitt and fellow astronaut Eugene Cernan covered more than 20 miles in the lunar rover.
“With no wind or earthquakes on the Moon, their tracks will remain untouched for millions of years.”
Mr Schmitt revealed how he developed a unique technique to cover as much of the surface as possible.
He said: “I was trying to think ahead about how I am going to get everything done that I need to do in the limited time available.
“I would glide above the surface and push with my toes each time I came down and accelerate that way.
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The team left marks where they had been
“As we launched off the Moon, you could glance out of the window and see the launch pad, as well as the tracks left around it.
Those tracks were still there almost 40 years later when NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter sent back high-resolution images of the Moon in 2009.
Mr Schmitt added during the documentary: “It has been really fun to see these pictures of where you were 40 years ago and nothing has changed.
“There are tracks everywhere and we did cross them a few times and made jokes about somebody being here before us.”
But that joke turned serious when one of the images sent back from the lunar orbiter appeared to show footprints 30 miles away from their landing spot.
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Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt
NASA lunar scientist Peter Schultz claimed: “They look like strange footprints marching across the surface, you wonder what caused them.”
And author William Birnes went one step further.
He added: “It’s not just that they are shaped like footprints, but it’s the path, it’s one foot, then the other – it’s almost like somebody has been walking on the Moon.
“They look like the kind of trails you would see in the desert, but the problem with these is they are not human size.”
They were found 10 miles further than where the astronauts had travelled, but lunar geologist Benjamin Weiss said they had nothing to do with human interaction.
Scientists believe the Moon’s history is to blame
He stated: “The earliest phase of the Solar System history was an extremely violent place, the Moon was being bombarded by a tremendous force.”
The series went on to reveal how the mystery unravelled.
It added: “If the footprints were caused by a meteor chain, they should be arranged in a straight line.
“With meteors ruled out, scientists look for similar structures in the Solar System.
“They find a clue in the lava beds of California where similar craters cover a huge area.”
Prof Weiss explained how scientists finally managed to solve the mystery.
He said in May: “We believe that these linear chains of holes are the surface expression of a buried tube of lava that was carrying magma billions of years ago.
“We now know there was extensive volcanism on the surface of the Moon, huge plains of lava.”