Eugene “Gene” Cernan was an American astronaut, engineer, and aviator, and was the last human to set foot on the Moon in 1972. On Monday, January 16th, 2017, we were saddened to hear of the announcement made by NASA of Cernan’s passing, aged 82.
Cernan was born in Chicago in 1934, into a family of Czech and Slovak prominence. He attended Purdue University, where he received a BA degree in Electrical Engineering in 1956. After his bachelor studies, he attended flight training and became a Naval Aviator, flying FJ-4 Fury and A-4 Skyhawk jets.
Later on, he resumed his university studies and received an MA degree in Aeronautical Engineering. Cernan logged more than 5,000 hours of flying time throughout his career, with 4,800 hours spent in jet aircraft. Moreover, he traveled to space three times.
Gene’s first encounter with space was within the confines of Project Gemini, NASA’s second human spaceflight program, putting the United States in the lead during the Cold War Space Race against the Soviet Union. He was a pilot of Gemini 9A in June 1966, as the project was reaching its conclusion.
His second encounter with space followed in May 1969, as Lunar Module Pilot of Apollo 10, the “dress rehearsal” mission for the first Moon landing. The purpose of the mission was to test all aspects and procedures, just before the actual landing on the Moon later that year.
On the third and final travel to space in December 1972, Cernan was Commander of the final lunar landing with Apollo 17, accompanied by the American geologist and NASA astronaut, Harrison Schmitt. The two of them were the eleventh and twelfth persons respectively to walk on the Moon.
As Gene was the last person to re-enter the Lunar Module Challenger once the final extravehicular activity was done, he remains, to this day, to be the last human to have walked on the Moon’s surface.
Before their journey back home, he addressed Robert A. Parker, at that time a member of the Astronaut Support Crew of the Appollo 17, and told him: “Bob, this is Gene, and I’m on the surface; and, as I take man’s last step on the surface, back home for some time to come – but we believe not too long into the future – I’d like to just say what I believe history will record: that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus–Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17”.
To date, these are the last words spoken by any human standing on the Moon’s surface. Cernan withdrew from NASA in 1976 and, his later years dedicated his life to his own private company.
In 1999, he published a memoir entitled The Last Man on the Moon, with co-author Donald A. Davis, sharing more about his naval and NASA experiences.
So long Superhuman!