Eugene A. Cernan, the last astronaut to leave his footprints on the surface of the moon, has died, NASA said Monday.
He was 82.
“We are saddened by the loss of retired NASA astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon,” the US space agency said on Twitter.
Cernan was one of fourteen astronauts selected by NASA in October 1963. He served as as spacecraft commander of Apollo 17, the last scheduled manned mission to the moon for the United States. The mission launched on December 6, 1972 and returned on December 19.
The mission established several new records for manned space flight, including longest manned lunar landing flight (301 hours, 51 minutes), and longest lunar surface extravehicular activities (22 hours, 6 minutes).
Cernan logged 566 hours and 15 minutes in space, including 73 hours on the surface of the moon.
Cernan famously drove the lunar rover on the moon during the Apollo 17 mission, and left his daughter’s initials in the dust as he left the rover to enter to the lunar module and return to Earth.
As Cernan was about to climb the ladder into the lunar module for the last time, he spoke these words to Bob Parker, back at Mission Control:
“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 was the subject of the 2014 documentary “The Last Man on the Moon.”
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden released a statement Monday on Cernan’s life and work.
“Gene Cernan, Apollo astronaut and the last man to walk on the moon, has passed from our sphere, and we mourn his loss. Leaving the moon in 1972, Cernan said, ‘As I take these last steps from the surface for some time into the future to come, I’d just like to record that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow.’ 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.
“Gene first served his country as a Naval Aviator before taking the pilot’s seat on the Gemini 9 mission, where he became the second American to walk in space and helped demonstrate rendezvous techniques that would be important later. As a crew member of both the Apollo 10 and 17 missions, he was one of two men to have flown twice to the moon. He commanded Apollo 17 and set records that still stand for longest manned lunar landing flight, longest lunar surface extravehicular activities, largest lunar sample return, and longest time in lunar orbit.
“Gene’s footprints remain on the moon, and his achievements are imprinted in our hearts and memories. His drive to explore and do great things for his country is summed up in his own words:
‘We truly are in an age of challenge. With that challenge comes opportunity. The sky is no longer the limit. The word impossible no longer belongs in our vocabulary. We have proved that we can do whatever we have the resolve to do. The limit to our reach is our own complacency.’
“In my last conversation with him, he spoke of his lingering desire to inspire the youth of our nation to undertake the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) studies, and to dare to dream and explore. He was one of a kind and all of us in the NASA Family will miss him greatly.”