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Archive for February, 2017

Rest in peace, Gene Cernan, we will miss you

Feb. 21, 2017, under history

I originally wrote this blog post on the 24th of January, but it was lost when my blog was vandalized on the 11th of February. Fortunately, I was able to find resources that let me restore the article…

I stopped to read the space-related stuff in the latest issue of Aviation Week and Space Technology, and found some sad news: Gene Cernan died on January 16. This is the bio I added to the entry in the January 16 issue of the Space History Newsletter:

Eugene Andrew “Gene” Cernan (14 March 1934 – 16 January 2017) was the second American astronaut to “walk” in space, and the Last Man on the Moon for over 45 years.

Cernan was selected in 1963 as one of 14 in the third group of astronaut candidates. He became the second NASA astronaut to conduct a space walk during the Gemini 9 mission in June 1966, spending two hours and 10 minutes outside the cramped spacecraft. He then flew on the Apollo 10 mission to the Moon in May 1969, approaching to within 47,000 feet during the last test flight before the Apollo 11 landing two months later, in July. On his third and final space mission, Apollo 17, Cernan and geologist-astronaut Harrison Schmitt spent three days exploring the Moon’s surface, on foot and in a rover.

Apollo 17 lifted off at 12:33 a.m. EST on 7 December 1972, the only night launch of the giant Saturn V rocket ever conducted. On their way to the Moon, the crew snapped the iconic picture of the full Earth later dubbed “the Blue Marble,” which is probably the most widely distributed photograph in history, showing the blue-and-white planet floating serenely in the dark of space.

Leaving Command Module pilot John Young in orbit, Cernan and Schmitt touched down in the hilly Taurus-Littrow valley on 11 December 1972. They conducted three moonwalks, setting up experiments, collecting rock and soil samples, and photographing the barren landscape. Before following Schmitt up the ladder to the crew compartment at the end of the last excursion on 14 December, Cernan paused to read the plaque attached to the descent stage:

Here man completed his first explorations of the Moon, December 1972 A.D. May the spirit of peace in which we came be reflected in the lives of all mankind.

Cernan then continued: “This is our commemoration that will be here until someone like us, until some of you who are out there, who are the promise of the future, come back to read it again and to further the exploration and meaning of Apollo.

He later continued the message on his Web site: “Too many years have passed for me to still be the last man to have left his footprints on the Moon. I believe with all my heart that somewhere out there is a young boy or girl with indomitable will and courage who will lift that dubious distinction from my shoulders and take us back where we belong. Let us give that dream a chance.

After retiring from the Navy and NASA in 1976, Cernan went into business, and served as a TV commentator for early Shuttle flights. Politically conservative, he wrote a critically acclaimed book about his final Moon mission, appropriately titled The Last Man on the Moon, and starred in an award-winning documentary of the same name. He remained an eloquent and passionate advocate of space exploration long after he retired from NASA, testifying before Congress on many occasions, and frequently cited as an authority in print.

At the time of his death, Cernan was survived by six of the twelve men who had walked on the Moon during the six Apollo landing missions in 1969 through 1972.

The book, on Amazon:

The documentary, on Amazon:

The Blue Marble: The Blue Marble, a photograph taken by Apollo 17 astronauts, 7 December 1972
Image courtesy NASA Johnson Space Center

See also
See also The Official Website of Gene Cernan
See also The Last Man on the Moon Commemorative T-Shirt

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