Eugene Cernan

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Eugene Cernan
Cernan s71-51308.jpg
NASA Astronaut
Nationality American
Status Deceased
Born Eugene Andrew Cernan
(1934-03-14)March 14, 1934
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.[1]
Died January 16, 2017(2017-01-16) (aged 82)
Houston, Texas, U.S.[2]
Other occupation
Naval aviator, fighter pilot
Purdue University, B.S. 1956
NPS, M.S. 1963
Rank 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 "Gene" Cernan, CAPT, USN (/ˈsər.nən/; March 14, 1934 – January 16, 2017) was the last person to walk on the Moon. In addition to being a NASA astronaut, he was an American naval officer and naval aviator, electrical engineer, aeronautical engineer, fighter pilot, and NASA astronaut.

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. On Apollo 17, Cernan became the eleventh person to walk on the Moon and the most recent man to walk on the Moon, since he was the last to re-enter the Lunar Module Challenger after the mission's third and final extravehicular activity (EVA). 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.[3][4] Cernan grew up in the suburban towns of Bellwood and Maywood. Cernan was a Boy Scout and earned the rank of Second Class.[5] After graduating from Proviso East High School in Maywood, class of 1952, he attended Purdue University, where he became a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering in 1956, where his final GPA was 5.1 out of 6.0.[6]

His hobbies included love for horses, sports, hunting, fishing, and flying.[7]

Navy service[edit]

Cernan received his ROTC commission as a U.S. Navy Ensign through the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps at Purdue. After graduating from Purdue, he attended flight training. In 1958, Cernan became a Naval Aviator, flying FJ-4 Fury and A-4 Skyhawk jets[8] in Attack Squadrons 126 and 113. 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.

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.[7]

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.

Gemini program[edit]

Main article: Gemini 9A
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. 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. 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.

Apollo program[edit]

Main articles: Apollo 10 and Apollo 17
Cernan in the LM after EVA 3 on Apollo 17
Cernan at the beginning of EVA 3

Cernan was one of only three humans to travel to the Moon on two different occasions (the others being Jim Lovell and John Young), one of only twelve people to walk on the Moon and one of only two persons (Young, Cernan) to have descended toward the Moon in the lunar lander twice (the first was Apollo 10's non-landing mission). 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.

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] After the cancellation of Apollo 18, NASA decided to send a scientist—Schmitt—to the Moon. This decision meant the original Lunar Module (LM) pilot, Joe Engle, never had the opportunity to walk on the Moon. Cernan fought to keep his crew together; however, public pressure from the scientific community cemented Schmitt's position on the crew. Even though Cernan wanted to keep his crew together, he had positive thoughts about Schmitt's abilities. For example, he believed Schmitt was an outstanding LM pilot and that Engle was merely an adequate one.[10]

Eight months later Cernan was selected as Commander of Apollo 17, the final lunar landing. While on the Moon in December 1972 during Apollo 17, he and his crewmate Harrison Schmitt performed three EVAs for a total of about 22 hours of exploration of Taurus–Littrow valley. Their first EVA alone was more than three times the length Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent outside the LM on Apollo 11. During this time they covered more than 35 km (22 mi) using the Lunar Rover and spent a great deal of time collecting geologic samples 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 distinction as the last person to walk on the Moon means that Purdue University currently holds the distinction of being the alma mater of both the first person to walk on the Moon (Neil Armstrong), and the most recent.

Post-NASA career[edit]

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

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."

In 1976, Cernan retired from both the Navy (with the rank of captain) and from NASA, and went into private business.

Starting January 26, 1987, Cernan was a contributor to ABC News and its Good Morning America morning show for its weekly "Breakthrough" segment, 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 space exploration documentaries, such as 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.

On May 13, 2010, Cernan and Neil Armstrong testified before U.S. Congress in opposition to President Barack Obama's cancellation of the Constellation program, initiated during the Bush administration as part of the Vision for Space Exploration to return humans to the Moon and later to Mars, but later deemed underfunded and unsustainable by the Augustine Commission in 2009.

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.[15] The film received the Texas Independent Film Award from Houston Film Critics Society and the Movies for Grownups Award from AARP The Magazine.[16][17]


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.[7]

Awards and honors[edit]


Cernan died in a hospital in Houston on January 16, 2017 at the age of 82.[19]

In popular culture[edit]

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

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. In the 1998 Primetime Emmy Award-winning HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, he was portrayed by Daniel Hugh Kelly.

His recollections were the basis of the song "Moon Rider", written by Paul and Ralph Colwell and Herbert Allen, performed by Up With People.

In December 2011 Cernan appeared on the BBC's astronomy program The Sky at Night in the episode entitled "Last Man on the Moon". He appeared on another BBC program in 2012, answering questions on Stargazing Live by video link from Houston.

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.[20]

A number of fictional characters have been described as being the "last man to walk on the moon." These have included Steve Austin of the novel Cyborg by Martin Caidin (later adapted as the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man with Lee Majors portraying the character) and Captain Spurgeon Tanner, a character in the film Deep Impact portrayed by Robert Duvall.

In Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D, Cernan is voiced by Gary Sinise.

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".[21]

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. [22]

Cernan's name is used as the name of a Twain Ship (air ship capable of traversing parallel worlds) in The Long Mars (2014), a Science-Fiction/Fantasy novel by Sir Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Astronaut Bio: Eugene A. Cernan". NASA. Retrieved January 16, 2017. 
  2. ^ Graczyk, Michael; Borenstein, Seth. "Gene Cernan, Last Astronaut to Walk on the Moon, Dies at 82". Retrieved 16 January 2017. 
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Scouting and Space Exploration". Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. 
  6. ^ "Educational background". Airport Journals. Retrieved August 3, 2016. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h "Biographical Data". Johnson Space Center. December 1994. Retrieved June 20, 2016. 
  8. ^ Cernan, Eugene; Davis, Don (March 15, 1999). "Chapter 5". The Last Man On The Moon. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0312199067. 
  9. ^ Gene Cernan Oral History, Houston Oral History Project, February 5, 2009. accessed April 19, 2015.
  10. ^ "A Running Start - Apollo 17 up to Powered Descent Initiation". Apollo 17 Lunar Surface Journal. NASA. June 10, 2014. Retrieved June 19, 2016. 
  11. ^ Lyons, Pete. "10 Best Ahead-of-Their-Time Machines", in Car and Driver, 1/88, p.78.
  12. ^ Jones, Eric M (2010-10-28). "EVA-3 Close-out". Apollo 17 Lunar Surface Journal. NASA. Retrieved 2011-08-28. 
  13. ^ "'Good Morning' Segment For Cernan". Los Angeles Times. January 8, 1987. Retrieved June 19, 2016. 
  14. ^ Soller, Kurt (2009-07-17), "Moonstruck: Debunking the Claims of Moon Landing Deniers", Newsweek, retrieved 2009-09-04 
  15. ^ Heithaus, Harriet Howard. "Mark Craig, moonwalk film director, recalls it". Naples Daily News. Retrieved 11 June 2016. 
  16. ^ "AARP Movies for Grown Ups Award". The Last Man on the Moon. Retrieved 11 June 2016. 
  17. ^ "Houston Film Critics Award". The Last Man on the Moon. Retrieved 11 June 2016. 
  18. ^ Slovak republic website, State honours : 2nd Class (click on "Holders of the Order of the 2nd Class White Double Cross" to see the holders' table)
  19. ^ "Remembering Gene Cernan". NASA. 16 January 2017. Retrieved 16 January 2017. 
  20. ^ "Last Man on Moon Left Camera Behind, Regrets NASA's Fade". Bloomberg. December 4, 2012. Retrieved June 19, 2016. 
  21. ^ "Watch DJ Falcon discuss new Daft Punk album, sampling NASA space missions". Consequence of Sound. 2013-05-07. Retrieved 2013-05-14. 
  22. ^ "Public Service Broadcasting - The Race For Space". 2015-02-15. 

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