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Eugene Cernan

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Eugene Cernan
Cernan s71-51308.jpg
Cernan in December 1971
Eugene Cernan - podpis.jpg
NASA Astronaut
Nationality American
Born Eugene Andrew Cernan
(1934-03-14)March 14, 1934
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died January 16, 2017(2017-01-16) (aged 82)
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Resting place
Texas State Cemetery
Other occupation
Naval aviator, fighter pilot
Purdue University, B.S. 1956
NPS, M.S. 1963
Rank US Navy O6 infobox.svg Captain, United States Navy
Time in space
23d 14h 15m
Selection 1963 NASA Group 3
Total EVAs
Total EVA time
24 hours 11 minutes
Missions Gemini 9A, Apollo 10, Apollo 17
Mission insignia
Ge09Patch orig.png Apollo-10-LOGO.png Apollo 17-insignia.png
Retirement July 1, 1976
Awards United States Naval Aviator/Astronaut Insignia NASA Civilian Astronaut Wings Dfc-usa.jpg NASA Distinguished Service Medal.jpg

Eugene Andrew Cernan (/ˈsər.nən/; March 14, 1934 – January 16, 2017) was an American astronaut, naval aviator, electrical engineer, aeronautical engineer, and fighter pilot. On Apollo 17, Cernan became the eleventh person to walk on the Moon and, as the last man to re-enter the Lunar Module, the last person as of 2018 to have walked on the Moon.

He traveled into space three times: as Pilot of Gemini 9A in June 1966, as Lunar Module Pilot of Apollo 10 in May 1969, and as Commander of Apollo 17 in December 1972, the final Apollo lunar landing. Cernan was also a backup crew member for the Gemini 12, Apollo 7 and Apollo 14 space missions.


Early years[edit]

Cernan was born on March 14, 1934, in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Rose (Cihlar) and Andrew Cernan. His father was of Slovak descent and his mother was of Czech ancestry.[1][2] Cernan grew up in the suburban towns of Bellwood and Maywood. Cernan was a Boy Scout and earned the rank of Second Class.[3] After attending McKinley Elementary School in Bellwood and graduating from Proviso East High School in Maywood, class of 1952, he went on to study at Purdue University, where he became a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. After his sophomore year, he accepted a partial Navy ROTC scholarship, which also required him to serve aboard USS Roanoke between his junior and senior years. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering in 1956, where his final GPA was 5.1 out of 6.0.[4]

His hobbies included love for horses, sports, hunting, fishing, and flying.[5]

Navy service[edit]

Cernan was commissioned a U.S. Navy Ensign through the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps at Purdue, and was initially stationed on the USS Saipan. Cernan transitioned to active duty, and attended flying training at Whiting Field, Baron Field, Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, and Naval Air Station Memphis.[6]:29–31 Following flight training on the T-28 Trojan, T-33 Shooting Star, and F9F Panther, Cernan became a Naval Aviator, flying FJ-4 Fury and A-4 Skyhawk jets in Attack Squadrons 126 and 113.[6]:31–33,38–39 Upon completion of his assignment in Miramar, California, he finished his education in 1963 at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School with a Master of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering.[5]

Throughout his career, Cernan logged more than 5,000 hours of flying time, with 4,800 hours in jet aircraft. In addition to his flight hours, Cernan also landed on aircraft carriers 200 times.[5]

NASA career[edit]

Cernan was selected among the third group of NASA astronauts in October 1963 by NASA to participate in the Gemini and Apollo programs.[5]

Gemini program[edit]

Cernan aboard Gemini IX-A

Cernan was originally selected as backup pilot for Gemini 9 with Thomas Stafford. When the prime crew was killed in the crash of NASA T-38A "901" (USAF serial 63-8181) at Lambert Field on February 28, 1966, the backup crew became the prime crew. This was the first time the backup crew had become the flight crew.[7] Gemini 9A encountered a number of problems; the original target vehicle exploded during launch, and the planned docking with a substitute target vehicle was made impossible by a protective shroud failing to separate after launch.[7] However, the crew performed a rendezvous that simulated procedures that would be used in Apollo 10: the first optical rendezvous; and a lunar orbit abort rendezvous. Cernan performed the second American EVA (the third ever), but overexertion due to lack of limb restraints prevented testing of the AMU and forced the early termination of the spacewalk.[7]

Cernan was also a backup Pilot for the Gemini 12 mission.[8]

Apollo program[edit]

Cernan in the LM after EVA 3 on Apollo 17
Cernan and Snoopy during Apollo 10 press conference
Cernan at the beginning of EVA 3
Apollo 10[edit]

Cernan was selected for the "Lunar Module (LM) Pilot" position on the backup crew for Apollo 7 (although that flight carried no Lunar Module), and standard crew rotation put him in place as the Lunar Module Pilot on Apollo 10, the final dress rehearsal mission for the first Apollo lunar landing, on May 18–26, 1969. During the mission, Cernan and Apollo 10 Commander Tom Stafford piloted the Lunar Module Snoopy in lunar orbit to within just 8.5 nautical miles (112.8 by 15.7 km) of the lunar surface, successfully executing every phase of a lunar landing up until final powered descent - providing NASA planners with critical knowledge of technical systems and lunar gravitational conditions to enable Apollo 11 to successfully land on the Moon just two months later.

Apollo 17[edit]

Cernan turned down the opportunity to walk on the Moon as Lunar Module Pilot of Apollo 16, preferring to risk missing a flight altogether for the opportunity to command his own mission.[9] Cernan therefore moved back into the Apollo rotation as commander of the backup crew (Cernan, Ronald E. Evans, and Joe Engle) for Apollo 14, putting him in position through normal crew rotation to command his own crew on Apollo 17. Escalating budget cutbacks for NASA, however, raised the question of how many more lunar missions the agency might be able to fly. After the cancellation of Apollo 15 (in its original H class profile) and Apollo 19 in September, 1970 (see Cancelled Apollo missions), pressure mounted from the scientific community to shift the sole professional geologist in the active Apollo roster of astronauts, Harrison Schmitt, to the crew of the final surviving Apollo mission - Apollo 17. In August 1971, NASA named Schmitt as the Lunar Module pilot for Apollo 17. This decision meant the original LM pilot, Joe Engle, never had the opportunity to walk on the Moon. Cernan fought to keep his crew together; given the choice of flying with Schmitt as LMP or seeing his entire crew removed from Apollo 17, however, Cernan chose to fly with Schmitt. Cernan eventually came to have a positive evaluation of Schmitt's abilities. For example, he concluded that Schmitt was an outstanding LM pilot, while Engle (notwithstanding an outstanding record as an aircraft test pilot) was merely an adequate one.[10]

Cernan's role as commander of Apollo 17 closed out the Apollo program's lunar exploration mission with a number of record-setting achievements. During the three days of Apollo 17's surface activity (Dec. 11-14, 1972), Cernan and Schmitt performed three EVAs for a total of about 22 hours of exploration of the Taurus–Littrow valley. Their first EVA alone was more than three times the length astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent outside the LM on Apollo 11. During this time Cernan and Schmitt covered more than 35 km (22 mi) using the Lunar Rover and spent a great deal of time collecting geologic samples (including a record 34 kilograms (75 lb) of samples, the most of any Apollo mission) that would shed light on the Moon's early history. Cernan piloted the rover on its final sortie, recording a maximum speed of 11.2 mph (18.0 km/h), giving him the unofficial lunar land speed record.[11]

As Cernan prepared to climb the ladder for the final time, he spoke these words, currently the last spoken by a human standing on the Moon's surface:

Bob, this is Gene, and I'm on the surface; and, as I take man's last step from 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.

— Cernan, [12]

Cernan's being the last person to walk on the Moon means that Purdue University holds the distinction of being the alma mater of both the first person to walk on the Moon (Neil Armstrong), and the most recent. Cernan was one of only three humans to travel to the Moon on two different occasions (the others being Jim Lovell and John Young) and one of only twelve people to walk on the Moon. Apollo 10 holds the world/Moon record for the highest speed attained by any manned vehicle at 39,897 km/h (24,791 mph) during its return from the Moon on May 26, 1969.[8]

Post-NASA career[edit]

Eugene Cernan at a memorial service for Neil Armstrong September 13, 2012

In 1976, Cernan retired from the Navy with the rank of captain, and from NASA, and went into private business. He became Executive Vice President of Coral Petroleum Inc before starting his own company, The Cernan Corporation, in 1981.[5] From 1987 he was a contributor to ABC News and the weekly "Breakthrough" segment of its Good Morning America morning show for a segment on health, science, and medicine.[13]

In 1999 he published his memoir The Last Man on the Moon with coauthor Donald A. Davis, covering his naval and NASA career. He is featured in the space exploration documentary In the Shadow of the Moon, in which he stated: "Truth needs no defense" and "Nobody can take those footsteps I made on the surface of the moon away from me."[14] Cernan also contributed to the book of the same name.

Cernan and Neil Armstrong testified before U.S. Congress in 2010 in opposition to the cancellation of the Constellation program. It had been initiated during the Bush administration as part of the Vision for Space Exploration with the aim of returning humans to the Moon and eventually Mars, but was deemed underfunded and unsustainable by the Augustine Commission in 2009.[15] Cernan also paired his criticism of the cancellation of Constellation with expressions of skepticism about NASA's planned replacements for that program's role in supplying cargo and crew to the International Space Station, Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) and Commercial Crew Development (CCDev). Such companies, Cernan warned, “do not yet know what they don’t know.” Cernan's view of CRS and CCDev commercial space companies, and SpaceX (the only company to participate in both programs) in particular, underwent a positive shift, however, after being debriefed at length by SpaceX venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, who reached out to Cernan as part of his effort to obtain the signatures of nine Apollo astronauts on a photo meant as a gift to SpaceX founder Elon Musk to mark the occasion of the first successful SpaceX cargo mission to the ISS in 2012. Eventually, Cernan was won over, and added his signature to the photo. “As I told him these stories of heroic entrepreneurship, I could see his mind turning,” Jurvetson wrote. “He found a reconciliation: ‘I never read any of this in the news. Why doesn’t the press report on this?'” [16]

In 2016, Cernan appeared in the documentary The Last Man on the Moon, made by British filmmaker Mark Craig. The film, nine years in the making, is based on Cernan's 1999 memoir of the same title.[17] The film received the Texas Independent Film Award from Houston Film Critics Society and the Movies for Grownups Award from AARP The Magazine.[18][19]

Personal life[edit]

Cernan was married twice and had one daughter. His first wife was Barbara Jean Atchley, a flight attendant for Continental Airlines, who he married in 1961. They had one daughter, Tracy (born in 1963). In 1980 they separated, divorcing in 1981. They remained friends.[20] His second marriage was to Jan Nanna Cernan, which lasted for nearly 30 years from 1987 until his death. Cernan gained two step-daughters, Kelly and Danielle.[21]


Cernan died in a hospital in Houston on January 16, 2017, at the age of 82.[22] He was buried with full military honors at Texas State Cemetery, the first astronaut to be buried there, during a private service on January 25, 2017.[23][24]


Cernan was a member of several organizations: Fellow, American Astronautical Society; member, Society of Experimental Test Pilots; member, Tau Beta Pi (National Engineering Society), Sigma Xi (National Science Research Society), Phi Gamma Delta (National Social Fraternity), and The Explorers Club.[5]

Awards and honors[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

Cernan's space suit on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

On July 2, 1974, Cernan was a roaster of Don Rickles on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast. At the end of the roast, Rickles (who attended the Apollo 17 launch) paid tribute to Cernan as a "delightful, wonderful, great hero."[31] Cernan was featured in the Discovery Channel's documentary miniseries When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions, providing narrative on his involvement and missions as an astronaut.[32] In the 1998 Primetime Emmy Award-winning HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, he was portrayed by Daniel Hugh Kelly.[33]

Cernan's story of leaving the initials of his daughter, Tracy, written on a rock on the Moon (not something he did in reality – he actually scribbled them in the sand), was prominently mentioned in the 20th episode of the third season of Modern Family. The story, and Cernan's relationship with his daughter in general, was later adapted into "Tracy's Song" by pop-rock band No More Kings. Although he didn't write his daughter's initials on a rock, Cernan himself states in the 2014 Documentary The Last Man on the Moon that he wrote them in the lunar dust as he left the rover to return to the LEM and Earth.[34]

Cernan's voice from the Apollo 17 mission was sampled by Daft Punk for the duo's 2013 album Random Access Memories, in the last track named "Contact".[35] Cernan's last words on the lunar surface, along with Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt's recollections, were used by the band Public Service Broadcasting for the song Tomorrow, the final track of their 2015 album The Race for Space.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Evans, Ben (April 2, 2010). "Escaping the Bonds of Earth: The Fifties and the Sixties". Springer Science & Business Media. Archived from the original on January 18, 2017 – via Google Books. 
  2. ^ "United States Census, 1940". The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Archived from the original on January 18, 2017. Retrieved January 24, 2017. 
  3. ^ "Scouting and Space Exploration". Boy Scouts of America. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. 
  4. ^ "Gene Cernan: Always Shoot for the Moon, Part I". Airport Journals. July 1, 2005. Archived from the original on May 27, 2016. Retrieved January 24, 2017. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Biographical Data". Johnson Space Center. December 1994. Archived from the original on June 29, 2016. Retrieved June 20, 2016. 
  6. ^ a b Cernan, Eugene; Davis, Don (March 15, 1999). The Last Man On The Moon. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-19906-7. 
  7. ^ a b c Hacker, Barton C.; Grimwood, James M. (September 1974). "Chapter 14 Charting New Space Lanes". On the Shoulders of Titans: A History of Project Gemini. NASA History Series. SP-4203. NASA. Archived from the original on February 1, 2010. 
  8. ^ a b c "Commanded Apollo 17, the last manned lunar mission". New Mexico Museum of Space History. Archived from the original on January 18, 2017. Retrieved January 17, 2017. 
  9. ^ "Gene Cernan Oral History". Houston Oral History Project. February 5, 2009. Archived from the original on February 1, 2015. Retrieved April 19, 2015. 
  10. ^ "A Running Start - Apollo 17 up to Powered Descent Initiation". Apollo 17 Lunar Surface Journal. NASA. June 10, 2014. Archived from the original on July 12, 2016. Retrieved June 19, 2016. 
  11. ^ Lyons, Pete (January 1988). "10 Best Ahead-of-Their-Time Machines". Car and Driver. p. 78. 
  12. ^ Jones, Eric M (October 28, 2010). "EVA-3 Close-out". Apollo 17 Lunar Surface Journal. NASA. Archived from the original on October 28, 2011. Retrieved August 28, 2011. 
  13. ^ "'Good Morning' Segment For Cernan". Los Angeles Times. January 8, 1987. Archived from the original on August 13, 2016. Retrieved June 19, 2016. 
  14. ^ Soller, Kurt (July 17, 2009), "Moonstruck: Debunking the Claims of Moon Landing Deniers", Newsweek, archived from the original on August 25, 2009, retrieved September 4, 2009 
  15. ^ "Armstrong: Obama NASA Plan 'devastating'". NBC News. April 13, 2010. Archived from the original on December 24, 2016. Retrieved January 17, 2017. 
  16. ^ "Apollo astronauts, SpaceX, and a special photo". Space Politics. July 12, 2012. Retrieved January 17, 2017. 
  17. ^ Heithaus, Harriet Howard. "Mark Craig, moonwalk film director, recalls it". Naples Daily News. Retrieved June 11, 2016. 
  18. ^ "AARP Movies for Grown Ups Award". The Last Man on the Moon. Archived from the original on June 24, 2016. Retrieved June 11, 2016. 
  19. ^ "Houston Film Critics Award". The Last Man on the Moon. Archived from the original on June 24, 2016. Retrieved June 11, 2016. 
  20. ^ "Astronaut Eugene Cernan's regrets after being the last man to walk on the Moon". Mirror. Archived from the original on February 2, 2017. Retrieved January 19, 2017. 
  21. ^ Ervin, Jeremy (January 16, 2017). "Astronaut, Purdue grad Gene Cernan dead at 82". Journal and Courier. Retrieved May 26, 2017. 
  22. ^ "Remembering Gene Cernan". NASA. January 16, 2017. Archived from the original on January 16, 2017. Retrieved January 16, 2017. 
  23. ^ Flores, Nancy (January 17, 2017). "Astronaut Gene Cernan to be buried at Texas State Cemetery". Austin American-Statesman. Archived from the original on February 2, 2017. Retrieved January 19, 2017. 
  24. ^ Newton, Noelle. "Former Astronaut Gene Cernan buried at State Cemetery". Fox News. Archived from the original on January 26, 2017. Retrieved January 26, 2017. 
  25. ^ "U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame". Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. Archived from the original on October 15, 2016. Retrieved January 17, 2017. 
  26. ^ Slovak republic website, State honours Archived April 13, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. : 2nd Class (click on "Holders of the Order of the 2nd Class White Double Cross" to see the holders' table)
  27. ^ Graham, Jordan (November 4, 2014). "Moon's last visitor comes to town". The Orange Country Register. Archived from the original on January 4, 2015. Retrieved January 17, 2017. 
  28. ^ "Mourning the loss of Gene Cernan". Retrieved August 8, 2017. 
  29. ^ "S.S. Gene Cernan Fact Sheet" (PDF). Orbital ATK Newsroom. Orbital ATK. October 21, 2017. Retrieved November 15, 2017. 
  30. ^ "Orbital ATK Successfully Launches Eighth Cargo Delivery Mission to the International Space Station". Orbital ATK News Room. Orbital ATK. November 12, 2017. Retrieved November 15, 2017. 
  31. ^ "Don Rickles". Dean Martin Celebrity Roast. Season 1. Episode 17. February 7, 1974. NBC. 
  32. ^ Schwartz, John (June 6, 2008). "50 Years of NASA's Home Movies". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 18, 2017. Retrieved January 17, 2017. 
  33. ^ "Cast". IMDB. Archived from the original on January 19, 2017. Retrieved January 17, 2017. 
  34. ^ "Last Man on Moon Left Camera Behind, Regrets NASA's Fade". Bloomberg. December 4, 2012. Archived from the original on June 22, 2016. Retrieved June 19, 2016. 
  35. ^ "Watch DJ Falcon discuss new Daft Punk album, sampling NASA space missions". Consequence of Sound. May 7, 2013. Archived from the original on June 7, 2013. Retrieved May 14, 2013. 
  36. ^ "Public Service Broadcasting - The Race For Space". February 15, 2015. Archived from the original on September 2, 2015. 

External links[edit]