Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon has passed away at the age of 82. NASA said in a statement that he passed away on Monday, surrounded by his family.
On December 11th, 1972, Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt joined an elite and very small group of men after walking on the surface of another world. They stepped down from the lunar module and onto the lunar surface, as only 10 other men had done in history. After Gene returned to Earth, nobody has since gone back.
“Oh my golly, unbelievable.” Gene Cernan to Mission Control after landing
Cernan and Schmitt travelled for 19 miles on the lunar surface and explored using the lunar roving vehicle. For 22 hours on the surface of the Moon, they explored and gathered many valuable samples which were ferociously studied.
“I knew that I had changed in the past three days and that I no longer belonged solely to the Earth. Forever more, I would belong to the universe.”
Gene Cernan commanded the Apollo 17 mission at the age of 38. They launched on December 7th, 1972, at a time when lunar landings were beginning to become routine. We’d beaten the Russians to the Moon and public interest had started to wane on the expensive operations. There was, however, nothing routine about anything these men did. Ronald Evans orbited the Moon in the Command Module whilst Cernan and Schmitt explored the surface.
Cernan had said that the walk on the surface was painful for him as he’d aggravated a softball injury in his tendon. It didn’t stop his intrepid spirit though and they explored for 7 hours each day. He even made a touching tribute to his daughter.
“I took a moment to kneel and with a single finger, scratched Tracy’s initials, TDC, in the lunar dust, knowing those three letters would remain there undisturbed for more years than anyone could imagine.”
He found it almost difficult to leave the surface:
“Bob, this is Gene, and I’m on the surface and as I take man’s last steps from the surface, back home, for some time to come, but we believe not too long into the future. I’d like to Just list 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 come and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17.”
Cernan was a committed astronaut and a loving, family man. He was part of an elite group of American astronauts that had walked on the surface of another world. We should hope that his early efforts have not been in vein and that humanity will once again reach for the stars.
RIP Gene Cernan