December 19, 1972: The Apollo 17 crew returned to Earth, completing the final manned moon mission. Their cargo included orange soil they unexpectedly found on the moon.
Geologist Harrison “Jack” Schmitt turned up the ruddy regolith when he scuffed the soil at Shorty Crater with his boot. Schmitt blurred most of his photographs in his excitement, but his commander, Eugene Cernan, captured this clear picture with a color scale. Crewmate Ron Evans, when told of the discovery, also found and photographed orange patches on the moon from his orbiting spacecraft.
Shorty Crater’s orange soil formed from molten drops that sprayed from a lunar volcanic eruption some 3.64 billion years ago, NASA later determined.
Here’s an image of splashdown.