Moonwalker, Eugene Cernan, dies aged 82

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The last man to walk on the moon during the NASA 1969-1972 era of missions to the moon, Eugene Cernan, died aged 82 on Monday 16 January 2017.

Eugene Andrew Cernan (1934-2017) was the commander of the Apollo 17 lunar-landing mission in 1972 and the last human to walk on the moon. He went to space three times, and to the moon twice.

Cernan landed on the moon on 17 December 1972, three-and-a-half years after Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon. It was the time of America’s space program, a commitment of President John F Kennedy’s 1961 pledge to put Americans on the moon by the end of 1970.

In 1972, Ronald E Evan piloted the command ship Challenger in lunar orbit, while Cernan and Harrison H Schmitt descended the ship to land on the surface of the moon. After a 250,000-mile voyage, the lunar landing was only 300 feet from their target near the Taurus Mountains and the Littrow Crater. Dr Schmitt was the first scientist to land on the moon, and the two men conducted experiments and explored the surface over three days – on foot and in a battery-powered rover mounted with television cameras.

Cernan and Schmitt collected rocks four billion years old, drilled eight-foot heat-probe holes, and journeyed to a 7,000-foot mountain called the South Massif. There they found a fumarole, an ancient vent for volcanic gases, and collected strange orange and red soil samples. On three rover excursions that took them 21 miles to craters, rock slides, and mountain walls, and in 22 hours of moonwalks, they collected 250 pounds of rocks and soil to take home to Earth. They also left experiments that delivered data to Earth for years afterwards.

When Cernan took his last steps on the lunar surface, he said, “America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And as we leave the moon and Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came, and, God willing, we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.”

Twenty-four Americans have visited the moon. However, during six Apollo lunar landings, only 12 men have walked on the moon – all from America. Six are still living. In the 44 years to follow, no other person has walked on the moon.

The 12 astronauts who landed on the moon were (in order):

(1) Neil Alden Armstrong (deceased)

(2) Buzz Aldrin (1930-)

(3) Charles “Pete” Conrad (deceased)

(4) Alan L Bean (1932-)

(5) Alan Shepard (deceased)

(6) Edgar D Mitchell (deceased)

(7) David Randolph Scott (1932-)

(8) James B Irwin (deceased)

(9) John Watts Young )1930-)

(10) Charles M Duke (1935-)

(11) Harrison “Jack” Schmitt (1935-), and

(12) Eugene A Cernan (deceased)

Eugene (Gene) Andrew Cernan was born in Chicago on 14 March 1934, to Andrew Cernan, a supervisor at a naval installation, and the Rose Cihlar. He graduated from Proviso Township High School in Maywood, Illinois, in 1952, and received an electrical engineering degree from Purdue in 1956 and a master’s in aeronautical engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, in 1963. As a naval aviator, he logged 5,000 hours of flying time and 200 landings on aircraft carriers.

In 1961, he married Barbara Jean Atchley. They divorced in 1981. He later married Jan Nanna, who survives him, as do his daughter, Teresa Cernan Woolie; two stepdaughters, Kelly Nanna Taff and Danielle Nanna Ellis; and nine grandchildren.

Captain Cernan became a NASA astronaut in 1963. In 1966, at 32, he was the youngest man to go into space, before he made his lunar landing. His second spaceflight was Apollo 10, the final rehearsal for Apollo 11, which months later landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon.

Cernan’s spaceflight and landing in 1972 set two records: the longest lunar landing flight (nearly 302 hours) and the longest lunar surface extra-vehicular activities (22 hours and 6 minutes). Cernan also set a career record of 566 hours in space, 73 of them on the moon’s surface.

After Apollo 17, Cernan helped develop the United States-Soviet project Apollo-Soyuz. In 1976, he retired from the Navy and NASA and became an executive of Coral Petroleum in Houston. He founded the Cernan Corporation, an energy and aerospace consultancy, in 1981 and was chairman of the Johnson Engineering Corporation from 1994 to 2000.

Cernan and Armstrong (the first and the last man to walk on the moon) collaborated to promote further space missions in the 2010 congressional testimony. Armstrong died on 25 August 2012.

But their advice was not heeded. Due to budget constraints, President Barack Obama canceled NASA’s program to send astronauts back to the moon, or to Mars, or to invest in private companies to create new space technologies. Cernan called the budgetary decision a ‘’slide to mediocrity’’ and “a blueprint for a mission to nowhere.”

Cernan, like the other 11 moonwalkers, had a mission to somewhere.

Photograph: NASA

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