Gene Cernan, Last Man on the Moon, Honored at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

Remembrance Ceremony honoring the life of astronaut Eugene Cernan, last Man to walk on the Moon during NASA’s Apollo 17 moon landing mission in Dec. 1972, was held at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida, on Jan. 18, 2017. Cernan passed away on Jan. 16, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER VISITOR COMPLEX, FL – Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon, and one of America’s most famous and renowned astronauts, was honored in a ceremony held at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida, on Jan. 18. [Story/photos expanded]

Cernan passed away earlier this week on Monday, January 16, 2017 at age 82, after a long illness, surrounded by his family.

Cernan, a naval aviator, flew on three groundbreaking missions for NASA during the Gemini and Apollo programs that paved the way for America’s and humanity’s first moon landing missions.

His trio of historic space flights ultimately culminated with Cernan stepping foot on the moon in Dec. 1972 during the Apollo 17 mission- NASA final moon landing of the Apollo era.

No human has set foot on the Moon since Apollo 17 – an enduring disappointment to Cernan and all space fans worldwide.

Cernan also flew on the Gemini 9 and Apollo 10 missions, prior to Apollo 17.

The Gemini 9 capsule is on display at the KSC Visitor Complex. Cernan was the second NASA astronaut to perform an EVA – during Gemini 9.

The Cernan remembrance ceremony was held at the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame inside the newly opened ‘Heroes & Legends’ exhibit at the KSC Visitor Complex – two days after Cernan died. It included remarks from two of his fellow NASA astronauts from the Space Shuttle era, Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, and space shuttle astronaut Jon McBride, as well as Therrin Protze, chief operating officer, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Robert Cabana, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and space shuttle astronaut Jon McBride, following remarks at the Jan 18, 2017 Remembrance Ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida, honoring the life of astronaut Eugene Cernan. Credit: Julian Leek

A NASA portrait and floral wreath were on display for visitors during the ceremony inside and outside of the ‘Heroes and Legends’ exhibit.

“He was an advocate for the space program and hero that will be greatly missed,” said Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana during the ceremony inside.

“I don’t believe that Gene is going to be the last man on the moon. And one of the things that he was extremely passionate about was our exploring beyond our own planet, and developing that capability that would allow us to go back to the moon and go beyond.

“I feel badly that he wasn’t able to stay alive long enough to actually see this come to fruition,” Cabana said.

Portrait of NASA astronaut Gene Cernan and floral wreath displayed during the Jan. 18, 2017 Remembrance Ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida, honoring his life as the last Man to walk on the Moon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA is now developing the SLS heavy lift rocket and Orion deep space capsule to send our astronauts to the Moon, Mars and Beyond. The maiden launch of SLS-1 on the uncrewed EM-1 mission to the Moon is slated for Fall 2018.

“We are saddened of the loss of our American hero, Astronaut Gene Cernan. As the last man to place footsteps on the surface of the moon, he was a truly inspiring icon who challenged the impossible,” said Therrin Protze, chief operating officer of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

“People throughout generations have been and will forever be inspired by his actions, and the underlying message that what we can achieve is limited only by our imaginations. He will forever be known as ‘The Last Man on the Moon,” and for the extraordinary impact he had on our country and the world.”

Cernan was one of only 12 astronauts to walk on the moon. Neil Armstong and Buzz Aldrin were the first during the Apollo 11 moon landing mission in 1969 that fulfilled President Kohn F. Kennedy’s promise to land on the Moon during the 1960’s.

Launch of Apollo 17 – NASA’s last lunar landing mission – on 7 December 1972 from Launch Complex-39A on the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Credit: Julian Leek

Cernan retired from NASA and the U.S. Navy in 1976. He continued to advise NASA as a consultant and appeared frequently on TV news programs during NASA’s manned space missions as an popular guest explaining the details of space exploration and why we should explore.

He advocated for NASA, space exploration and science his entire adult life.

The prime crew for the Apollo 17 lunar landing mission are: Commander, Eugene A. Cernan (seated), Command Module pilot Ronald E. Evans (standing on right), and Lunar Module pilot, Harrison H. Schmitt (left). They are photographed with a Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) trainer. Cernan and Schmitt used an LRV during their exploration of the Taurus-Littrow landing site. The Apollo 17 Saturn V Moon rocket is in the background. This picture was taken during October 1972 at Launch Complex 39A, Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida. Credit: Julian Leek

“As an astronaut, Cernan left an indelible impression on the moon when he scratched his daughter’s initials in the lunar surface alongside the footprints he left as the last human to walk on the moon. Guests of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex can learn more about Cernan’s legacy at the new Heroes & Legends exhibit, where his spacewalk outside the actual Gemini IX space capsule is brought to life through holographic imagery.”

Actual Gemini 9 capsule piloted by Gene Cernan with Commander Thomas P. Stafford on a three-day flight in June 1966 on permanent display in the Heroes and Legends exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida. Cernan logged more than two hours outside the orbiting capsule, as depicted in description. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

From NASA’s profile page:

“Cernan was born in Chicago on March 14, 1934. He graduated from Proviso Township High School in Maywood, Ill., and received a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from Purdue University in 1956. He earned a master of science degree in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.

Cernan is survived by his wife, Jan Nanna Cernan, his daughter and son-in-law, Tracy Cernan Woolie and Marion Woolie, step-daughters Kelly Nanna Taff and husband, Michael, and Danielle Nanna Ellis and nine grandchildren.”

The following is a statement released by NASA on the behalf of Gene Cernan’s family:

A funeral service for Capt. Eugene A. Cernan, who passed away Monday at the age of 82, will be conducted at 2:30 p.m. CST on Tuesday, Jan. 24, at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, 717 Sage Road in Houston.

NASA Television will provide pool video coverage of the service.

The family will gather for a private interment at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin at a later date, where full military honors will be rendered.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Grand opening ceremony for the ‘Heroes and Legends’ attraction on Nov. 11, 2016 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida and attended by more than 25 veteran and current NASA astronauts. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Men Who Didn’t Go to the Moon

On this day (Feb. 28) in 1966, the Gemini 9 prime crew was in a T-38 airplane making a final approach to a McDonnell Aircraft plant in St. Louis, Missouri. Amid deteriorating weather conditions, Elliot See tried to make a landing. His airplane collided with the factory building in which his spacecraft was under construction. The plane crashed, killing both See and his crewmate Charlie Bassett.

The accident sent shockwaves through the small astronaut corps, and also necessitated some hasty reassignments. The Gemini 9 backup crew of Tom Stafford and Eugene Cernan immediately became the prime crew and launched into space on May 17, 1966 on a mission that included a challenging spacewalk for Cernan.

But according to Deke Slayton, who was responsible for crew selections at the time, the deaths of See and Bassett even affected the Moon missions of Apollo.

“I … had a lot of plans for Charlie Bassett — after GT-9 [Gemini 9] he would have moved on to command module pilot for Frank Borman’s Apollo crew. Elliott was going to be backup commander for GT-12,” wrote Slayton in his memoir Deke!, which he created with help from Twilight Zone writer (and multiple book author) Michael Cassutt.

In Slayton’s mind, the loss of this one crew affected assignments all the way to the first crew who landed on the Moon: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on Apollo 11. (Michael Collins was also on the mission, but remained in orbit in the command module.)

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon
Buzz Aldrin on the Moon for Apollo 11. Credit: NASA

“All the backups were changed, and Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin wound up being pointed at GT-12,” Slayton wrote. “Without flying GT-12, it was very unlikely that Buzz would have been in any position to be lunar module pilot on the first landing attempt.”

It’s possible this crash could even have affected Apollo 13, which happened four years later.

Jim Lovell flew on Apollo 8 as the command module pilot. While Slayton didn’t state it, Lovell’s experience on that mission likely led to his appointment as commander for Apollo 14. Fate then shifted him forward a flight to the ill-fated Apollo 13, which was crippled by an oxygen tank explosion, after the original commander of that flight, Al Shepard, required a little more time for training.

As for See and Bassett, their remains were buried at Arlington National Cemetery, which is also home to many other fallen crews. Several crew members from Apollo 1, the Challenger disaster and the Columbia disaster have been laid to rest there.

What are the Most Memorable NASA Spacewalks?

The official name is “extra-vehicular activity,” (EVA) but most of us like to call it a spacewalk. However, when you think about it, you don’t really walk in space. You float.

Or more properly speaking, clutch on to handlebars as you make your way from spot to spot on your spacecraft as you race against the clock to finish your repair or whatever outdoor tasks you were assigned. But hey, the view more than makes up for the hard work.

Some astronauts actually got to fly during their time “outside.” During STS-41B 29 years ago this month, Bruce McCandless was the first one to strap on a jetpack and, in science fiction style, float a little distance away from the shuttle.

He called his test of the manned maneuvering unit “a heck of a big leap”. Nearly 30 years after the fact, it still looks like a gutsy move.

What other memorable floating NASA spacewalks have we seen during the space age? Here are some examples:

The first American one

Ed White did the first American spacewalk in 1965. Credit: NASA
Ed White did the first American spacewalk in 1965. Credit: NASA

The pictures for Ed White’s spacewalk on Gemini 4 still look amazing, nearly 48 years after the fact. The astronaut tumbled and spun during his 23-minute walk in space, and even tested out a small rocket gun until the gas ran out. When commander Jim McDivitt ordered him back inside, the astronaut said it was the saddest moment in his life.

The dancing-with-exhaustion one

Eugene Cernan during his spacewalk on Gemini 9. Credit: NASA
Eugene Cernan during his spacewalk on Gemini 9. Credit: NASA

On Gemini 9, which took place the year after Gemini 4, Eugene Cernan was tasked with a spacewalk that was supposed to test out a backpack to let him move independently of the spacecraft.

Cernan, however, faced a lack of handholds and physical supports as he clambered outside towards the backpack. Putting it on took almost all the strength out of him, as he had nowhere to hold on to counterbalance himself.

“Lord, I was tired. My heart was motoring at about 155 beats per minute, I was sweating like a pig, the pickle was a pest, and I had yet to begin any real work,” Cernan wrote in his memoir, Last Man on the Moon, about the experience.

The situation worsened as his visor fogged up and Cernan struggled unsuccessfully to use the backpack. Cernan was so exhausted that he could barely get inside the spacecraft. “I was as weary as I had ever been in my life,” he wrote.

The three-astronauts-outside one

Three astronauts grab the Intelsat VI satellite during the STS-49 mission. Credit: NASA
Three astronauts grab the Intelsat VI satellite during the STS-49 mission. Credit: NASA

Spacewalks traditionally (at least, in the shuttle and station era) happen in pairs, so that if one person runs into trouble there’s another to help him or her out. However, two astronauts working outside during STS-49 couldn’t get enough of a grip on the free-flying Intelsat VI satellite they were trying to fix. So NASA elected to do another spacewalk with a third man.

Pierre Thuot hung on the Canadarm while Richard Hieb and Thomas Akers attached their bodies to the payload bay. Having three men hanging on to the satellite provided enough purchase for the astronauts inside the shuttle to maneuver Endeavour to a spot where Intelsat VI could be attached to the payload bay.

The facing-electrical-shock one

scott parazynski space station
Scott Parazynski repaired a damaged solar panel on the space station. Credit: NASA

In 2007, the astronauts of STS-120 unfolded a solar array on the International Space Station and saw — to everyone’s horror — that some panels were torn. Veteran spacewalker Scott Parazynski was dispatched to the rescue. He rode on the end of the Canadarm2, dangling above a live set of electrified panels, and carefully threaded in a repair.

In an interview with Parazynski that I did several years ago, I asked how he used his medical training while doing the repair. Parazynski quipped something along the lines of, “Well, the top thing in my mind was ‘First do no harm.’ ”

The International Space Station construction ones

Sunita Williams appears to touch the sun during this spacewalk on Expedition 35 on the completed International Space Station. Credit: NASA
Sunita Williams appears to touch the sun during this spacewalk on Expedition 35, which took place on the completed International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Spacewalks used to be something extra-special, something that only happened every missions or, on long-duration ones, maybe once. Building the International Space Station was different. The astronauts brought the pieces up in the shuttle and installed them themselves.

The station made spacewalking routine, or as routine such a dangerous endeavour can be. For that reason, an honorary mention goes to every mission that built the ISS.

What are your favorite EVAs? Feel free to add yours to the comments.