HOUSTON, TX—NASA has announced that Eugene Andrew Cernan, commander of the Apollo 17 lunar-landing mission in 1972 and the last human to walk on the moon, has died at the age of 82.
Three and a half years after the first ever lunar steps by Neil A. Armstrong in 1969, Cernan and a geologist-astronaut landed on the moon in order to bring a close to the Apollo program, America’s attempt to fulfill John F. Kennedy’s promise to put Americans on the moon.
Captain Cernan was the last of 12 Americans to land on the moon during the six Apollo program landings.
Cernan, along with the first scientist in space Harrison H. Schmidt, successfully landed on the moon after the 250,000-mile journey. The two began conducting experiments and embarked on a three-day exploration, both on foot and on a battery-powered rover.
Cernan and Schmidt brought back 250 pounds of soil and rock while leaving multiple experiments behind that relayed data back to NASA.
“The Challenger has landed. I’d like to dedicate the first step of Apollo 17 to all those who made it possible,” Captain Cernan recorded before the voyage back to Earth.
Cernan and Schmidt landed back on Earth, in the South Pacific, on December 19, 1972. There has been no human lunar landing in the 44 years since their mission.
He was born in Chicago on March 14, 1934 to parents Andrew Cernan and Rose Cihlar.
After graduating in 1952 from Maywood, Illnois’ Proviso Township High School, he attended Purdue University and received an electrical engineering degree in 1956. He then went on to get his masters in aeronautical engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA in 1963.
Cernan had achieved 5,000 hours of logged flying time and 200 landings on aircraft carriers throughout his time as a naval aviator. He became a NASA astronaut in 1963
His first spaceflight, Gemini 9, was a three-day orbital mission with the Air Force’s Colonel Thomas Stafford in 1966. During the mission, he also circled the earth twice while attached to a tether.
In 1969, again accompanied by Col. Stafford, along with Commander John W. Young of the Navy, Cernan was sent on his second spaceflight. The 10-day trip provided landing site photographs and the first live television pictures from the moon.
After Cernan’s final spaceflight on Apollo 17, he helped develop the first United States-Soviet spaceflight, Apollo-Soyuz.
He retired from the Navy and NASA in 1976, and became the Executive Vice President of Coral Petroleum in Houston. In 1981, he founded the Cernan Corporation, an energy and aerospace consulting company. From 1994 to 2000, he was chairman of the Johnson Engineering Corporation.
He leaves behind his wife Jan Nanna, his daughter Teresa Cernan Woolie, two stepdaughters Kelly Nanna Taff and Danielle Nanna Ellis, his sister Dolores Riley and nine grandchildren.