Eugene A Cernan, the commander of the Apollo 17 lunar-landing mission in 1972 and the last man to walk on the moon, died in Houston. He was 82. His death was announced by NASA. His family confirmed the news in a statement, saying that the retired US Navy captain died on Monday following “ongoing health issues”, reported CNN on Tuesday.
Cernan earned several distinctions in his 13 years with NASA. He was the second American to walk in space and one of three men to have flown twice to the moon.
But he’s best remembered as commander of Apollo 17, the last mission to the moon in December of 1972.
Up until his death he was passionate about space exploration and hoped America’s leaders would not let him remain the last man to walk on the moon, his family said.
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In his last conversation with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Cernan spoke of his “lingering desire” to inspire America’s youth to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics “and to dare to dream and explore,” Nasa said.
“Gene’s footprints remain on the moon, and his achievements are imprinted in our hearts and memories,” Bolden said.
Cernan was born in Chicago, Illinois, on March 14, 1934. He was one of 14 astronauts selected by NASA in October 1963 for the Apollo programme, created to send humans to the moon.
Cernan also participated in Gemini missions, NASA’s second human spaceflight programme, developed to support subsequent Apollo missions.
On his first space flight, Cernan became the second American to walk in space during the Gemini IX mission in 1966, led by command pilot Thomas Stafford.
On his second sojourn in May 1969, he was pilot of Apollo 10’s lunar module, the first comprehensive lunar-orbital qualification and verification flight test of an Apollo lunar module.
He made his third space flight as spacecraft commander of Apollo 17, the last scheduled manned mission to the moon, in December 1972.
The 1972 last mission to the moon established several firsts for manned spaceflight including: longest manned lunar landing flight (301 hours 51 minutes); longest lunar surface extravehicular activities (22 hours 6 minutes); largest lunar sample return (an estimated 115 kg (249 lbs.); and longest time in lunar orbit (147 hours 48 minutes).
Cernan retired from the Navy after 20 years in 1976 and ended his NASA career. He went into private business and served as television commentator for early fights of the space shuttle.
Cernan is survived by his wife, Jan Nanna Cernan, three daughters and nine grandchildren.