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.
A retired United States Navy Captain, Cernan earned several distinctions in his 13 years with NASA. He was the second American and one of two men to have flown to the moon on two occasions.
But he’s best remembered as commander of Apollo 17, the last mission to the moon in December of 1972.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, on March 14, 1934, Cernan received a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering in 1956 from Purdue University, where he received his commission through the Navy ROTC Program. He entered flight training upon graduation and went on to earn a Master of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the US Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
He was one of fourteen astronauts selected by NASA in October 1963 for the Apollo program, created to send humans to the moon. Like others in the program, Cernan also participated in Gemini missions, NASA’s second human spaceflight program, developed to support 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 for the US, in December 1972.
With the support of lunar module pilot Harrison H. Schmitt, Cernan established a base of operations in the moon’s Taurus-Littrow valley and made a home there for the mission for three days. From the landing base, they completed three excursions to nearby craters and the Taurus mountains.
The mission launched on December 6, 1972 and returned two weeks later. It 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’s death comes a little more than a month after fellow Apollo astronaut, John Glenn, died in December.