Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, died on January 16, surrounded by his family. Cernan, a Captain in the U.S. Navy, left his mark on the history of exploration by flying three times in space; twice to the moon. He also holds the distinction of being the second American to walk in space and the last human to leave his footprints on the lunar surface.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement after Cernan’s death, “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.”
A statement from Cernan’s family said in part, “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,”
Cernan was one of 14 astronauts selected by NASA in October 1963. He piloted the Gemini 9 mission with Commander Thomas P. Stafford on a three-day flight in June 1966. Cernan logged more than two hours outside the orbiting capsule. In May 1969, he was the lunar module pilot of Apollo 10, the first comprehensive lunar-orbital qualification and verification test of the lunar lander. The mission confirmed the performance, stability, and reliability of the Apollo command, service and lunar modules. The mission included a descent to within eight nautical miles of the moon’s surface.
Cernan concluded his historic space exploration career as commander of the last human mission to the moon in December 1972. En route to the moon, the crew captured an iconic photo of the home planet, with an entire hemisphere fully illumnitated — a “whole Earth” view showing Africa, the Arabian peninsula and the south polar ice cap. The hugely popular photo was referred to by some as the “Blue Marble,” a title in use for an ongoing series of NASA Earth imagery.
On July 1, 1976, Cernan retired from the Navy after 20 years and ended his NASA career. He went into private business and served as television commentator for early flights of the space shuttle.
Excerpted from a statement published by NASA. Among his many honors and awards, he was a Fellow of the AAS.