Apollo

Last Man on the Moon, Gene Cernan, Has Died

One of Apollo’s finest, astronaut Gene Cernan, has left Earth for the last time. Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon, died Monday, January 16, 2017.

“Gene Cernan, Apollo astronaut and the last man to walk on the moon, has passed from our sphere, and we mourn his loss,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden in statement. “Leaving the moon in 1972, Cernan said, ‘As I take these last steps from the surface for some time into the future to come, I’d just like to record that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow.’ Truly, America has lost a patriot and pioneer who helped shape our country’s bold ambitions to do things that humankind had never before achieved.”

In a statement, Cernan’s family said he was humbled by his life experiences, and he recently commented, “I was just a young kid in America growing up with a dream. Today what’s most important to me is my desire to inspire the passion in the hearts and minds of future generations of young men and women to see their own impossible dreams become a reality.”

“Even at the age of 82, Gene was passionate about sharing his desire to see the continued human exploration of space and encouraged our nation’s leaders and young people to not let him remain the last man to walk on the Moon,” the family continued.

A trailer for the film “The Last Man on the Moon:”

Cernan was a Captain in the U.S. Navy but he is remembered most for his historic travels off Earth. He flew in space three times, twice to the Moon.

He was one of 14 astronauts selected by NASA in October 1963. He piloted the Gemini 9 mission with Commander Thomas Stafford on a three-day flight in June 1966. Cernan was the second American to conduct a spacewalk, and he logged more than two hours outside the Earth-orbiting Gemini capsule.

During his two hour, eight minute spacewalk on June 5, 1966, Gemini IXA pilot Eugene Cernan is seen outside the spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Tom Stafford.

In May 1969, he was the lunar module pilot of Apollo 10, and dramatically descended to within 5 km (50,000 ft) of the Moon’s surface to test out the lunar lander’s capabilities, paving the way for Apollo 11’s first lunar landing two months later.

As Cernan flew the lunar module close to the surface, he radioed back to Earth, “I’m telling you, we are low. We’re close baby! … We is down among ‘em!”

Apollo 17 Mission Commander Eugene A. Cernan during the second spacewalk on December 12, 1972, standing near the lunar rover. Credit: NASA.

But his ultimate mission was landing on the Moon and walking across its surface during the Apollo 17 mission, the sixth and final mission to land on the Moon. During three EVAs to conduct surface operations within the Taurus-Littrow landing site, Cernan and his crewmate Harrison “Jack” Schmitt collected samples of the lunar surface and deployed scientific instruments.

On December 14, 1972, Cernan returned to the lunar module Challenger after the end of the third moonwalk, officially becoming the last human to set foot upon Moon.

Nobody can take those footsteps I made on the surface of the moon away from me.” – Eugene Cernan

Bolden said that in his last conversation with Cernan, “he spoke of his lingering desire to inspire the youth of our nation to undertake the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) studies, and to dare to dream and explore. He was one of a kind and all of us in the NASA Family will miss him greatly.”

The words of Cernan as he left the Moon’s surface bring us hope, for one day embarking on human missions of exploration of space once more.

“We shall return, in peace and hope, for all mankind.” – Gene Cernan.

A portion of a poem by space poet Stuart Atkinson is a wonderful remembrance:

Another One Falls

No mournful blare of trumpets but a forlorn Tweet announced
Another one had gone;
Another of the tallest redwoods in the forest of history
Had fallen, leaving a poorer world behind.

One by one they pass – the giants who dared to step
Off Terra, fly through a quarter million miles of deadly night
And stride across the Moon. On huge TVs in living rooms and schools
We watched them bounce across its ancient plains,
Snowmen stained by dust as cold and grey
As crematorium ash, mischievous boys with smiles flashing
Behind visors of burnished gold as they lolloped along,
Hopping like drunk kangaroos between boulders
Big as cars, so, so far away from Earth that their words
Came from the past –

And another one has gone.

(Read the full poem here.)

Apollo 17 mission commander Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, looks skyward during a memorial service celebrating the life of Neil Armstrong in 2012. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004. She is the author of a new book on the Apollo program, "Eight Years to the Moon," which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible. Her first book, "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond.

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