Hand color tinted photo of Eugene Cernan, NASA Astronaut
photo was taken in October 1963
On Apollo 17, Cernan became the eleventh person to walk on the Moon and the most recent man to walk on the Moon since he was the last to re-enter the Lunar Module Challenger after the mission’s third and final extravehicular activity (EVA). Cernan was also a backup crew member for the Gemini 12, Apollo 7 and Apollo 14 space missions.
A native of Chicago, Illinois, son of a Slovak father and a Czech mother, Cernan received his father’s name, originally spelled Ondrej Cernan. He grew up in the towns of Bellwood and Maywood. He graduated from Proviso East High School in Maywood, Illinois. He attended Purdue University, where he became a member of Phi Gamma Delta, and graduated with a B.S. in electrical engineering in 1956. He was commissioned into the U.S. Navy through the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps at Purdue, and became a Naval Aviator flying jets. He also received a M.S. in aeronautical engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1963.
Cernan was selected among the third group of NASA astronauts in October 1963 by NASA to participate in projects Gemini and Apollo.
Cernan was originally selected as back-up pilot for Gemini 9 with Thomas Stafford, but when the prime crew was killed in a plane crash, they then became the prime crew. Gemini 9-A encountered a number of problems; the original target vehicle exploded and the planned docking was made impossible by a protective shroud failing to separate on their substitute target vehicle. Cernan performed the second American EVA (only the third ever) but his space suit overheated resulting in a very high heart rate. The crew performed a demonstration of an early rendezvous that would be used in Apollo 10: the first optical rendezvous; and a lunar orbit abort rendezvous.
Cernan is one of only three humans to voyage to the Moon on two different occasions (the others being Jim Lovell and John Young), one of only twelve people to walk on the Moon and the only person to have descended toward the Moon in the lunar lander twice (the first was Apollo 10’s non-landing mission). Apollo 10 holds the world/moon record for the highest speed attained by any manned vehicle at 39,897 km/h (11.08 km/s or 24,791 mph) during its return from the Moon on May 26, 1969.
While on the Moon during Apollo 17, he and his crewmate Harrison Schmitt performed three EVAs for a total of about 22 hours of exploration. Their first EVA alone was more than three times the length Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent outside the LM on Apollo 11. During this time they covered more than 35 km (22 mi) using the Lunar Rover and spent a great deal of time collecting geologic samples that would shed light on the Moon’s early history. Cernan piloted the rover on its final sortie, recording a maximum speed of 11.2 mph (18.0 km/h), giving him the (unofficial) lunar land speed record.
As Cernan prepared to climb the ladder for the final time, he spoke these words, the last currently spoken by a human standing on the Moon’s surface: “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 turned down the opportunity to walk on the Moon eight months earlier as lunar module pilot of Apollo 16, preferring to risk missing a flight altogether for the opportunity to command his own mission. He was publicly critical of the decision by NASA to send a scientist—Schmitt—to the Moon, a decision that meant that original lunar module pilot, Joe Engle, never got to walk on the Moon. However, in Cernan’s words, Schmitt proved a capable LM pilot.
Cernan’s distinction as the last person to walk on the moon means that Purdue University currently holds the distinction of being the alma mater of both the first person to walk on the Moon (Neil Armstrong) and the last.
In 1976, Cernan retired both from the Navy (as a Captain) and from NASA, and went into private business.
In 1999, he co-authored The Last Man on the Moon with Don Davis. The book contains his memoirs of his career both with NASA and before. He has also been featured in space exploration documentaries, such as In the Shadow of the Moon, in which he stated: “Truth needs no defense” and “Nobody can take those footsteps I made on the surface of the moon away from me.” Cernan also contributed to the book of the same name.
Cernan also at one time was a contributor to ABC News and its Good Morning America morning show.
On May 13, 2010, Cernan and Neil Armstrong testified before Congress in opposition to President Barack Obama’s cancellation of the Constellation program, initiated during the Bush administration as part of the Vision for Space Exploration to return humans to the Moon and later to Mars, but later deemed underfunded and unsustainable by the Augustine Commission in 2009.