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Eugene “Gene” Cernan (1934 – 2017)

by Kirk Fox

Eugene “Gene” Cernan, the former NASA astronaut who remains the last human being to date to set foot on the surface of the moon, died Monday, Jan. 16, 2017.

Eugene “Gene” Cernan, the former NASA astronaut who remains the last human being to date to set foot on the surface of the moon, died Monday, Jan. 16, 2017, according to NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs. Cernan was 82.

“We are saddened by the loss of retired NASA astronaut Gene Cernan,” the space agency tweeted, “the last man to walk on the moon.”


The National Air and Space Museum also tweeted a tribute for Cernan: “We mourn the loss of our friend Gene Cernan, the Last Man on the moon and a hero for the ages. Godspeed the Commander of Apollo 17.”

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Cernan was one of NASA’s early generation of astronauts, entering the agency in 1963 as part of the Gemini program. He first went to space as a crew member of Gemini 9A June 3, 1966. It was the mission where he became the second American, and the third person ever, to exit his spacecraft while in orbit – what astronauts refer to as extravehicular activity, or EVA, and most people refer to as a spacewalk. It was a risky endeavor: NASA was still working out how best to outfit an astronaut for walking in space, and Cernan found that his suit quickly became stiff and immobile.

Ultimately, he became one of only two astronauts to fly to the moon twice. As the lunar module pilot of Apollo 10 in May 1969, his lunar orbit paved the way for Apollo 11’s landing two months later. And as the commander of Apollo 17 in December 1972, the last moon mission to date, Cernan and his Apollo 17 crew member Harrison H. (Jack) Schmitt spent more than 73 hours on the moon’s surface.

“America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow,” Cernan said from the moon’s Taurus-Littrow Valley Dec. 14, 1972, as he prepared to reboard his spacecraft to lift off and return home. “As we leave the moon and Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, we shall return with peace and hope for all mankind.”

Cernan was a native of Chicago, Illinois. He attended Purdue University in neighboring Indiana, and after graduating, he spent five years as a U.S. Navy aviator before joining NASA.

He retired from both the Navy and NASA in 1976 and entered the private business world.

Later, he became a contributor on the ABC television morning show, “Good Morning America,” filing reports for its “Breakthrough” segment on health, science, and medicine.

He co-wrote his autobiography in 1999 titled “The Last Man on the Moon.” A documentary based on his book and with the same title was released in 2016.

Cernan and his wife, Jan Nanna Cernan, had three daughters and one grandchild.

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