Published On:January 17, 2017, 11:29 am
On Monday, NASA declared that Eugene A. Cernan who was the last astronaut who had left footprints on the surface of the moon has died. The retired United States Navy captain was aged 82.
He passed away following “ongoing health issues” his family confirmed in a statement. The family said, "Our family is heartbroken, of course, and we truly appreciate everyone's thoughts and prayers. Gene, as he was known by so many, was a loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend."
Just a month ago in December 2016, news of the death of his fellow astronaut John Glenn came in. Cernan had garnered many accolades in his thirteen years with NASA. Also, he was the second American who had walked in space and one of the three who had flown to the moon twice.
However, astronaut Cernan is best commemorated as the commander of Apollo 17, which was the last mission to the moon in December of 1972.
In 2008 Cernan said, "Apollo 17 built upon all of the other missions scientifically," "We had a lunar rover; we were able to cover more ground than most of the other missions. We stayed there a little bit longer. We went to a more challenging unique area in the mountains, to learn something about the history and the origin of the moon itself."
In his entire life, he always challenged himself. He knowingly chose to be a naval aviator when he entered the military. It is said that one of the hardest things to do in aviation is landing an aircraft carrier. Cernan did it because it wasn’t easy and he constantly kept pushing himself to excel.
His family said, till the time he died, Eugene was passionate about space and exploration and he wished America’s leaders would not let him be the last man who ever walked the moon. At the time of his last conversation with Charles Bolden, a NASA Administrator, Cernan spoke of his “lingering desire” to encourage America’s youth population to study science, engineering and mathematics, and technology “and dare to dream and explore,” NASA stated.
Bolden said, "Gene's footprints remain on the moon, and his achievements are imprinted in our hearts and memories." According to NASA, Cernan logged 566 hours and 15 minutes in space, of which 73 hours were spent on the surface of the moon.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, on March 14, 1934, Cernan received an electrical engineering degree in 1956 from Purdue University. He did Masters of Science in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He was one of the 14 astronauts who was selected by NASA in October 1963 for the Apollo program, which was specifically created to send humans to the moon.
In 1976, he retired from NASA and the Navy. Cernan is survived by his wife, Jan Nanna Cernan, three daughters and nine grandchildren. His family quoted his recent saying, "I was just a young kid in America growing up with a dream. Today what's most important to me is my desire to inspire the passion in the hearts and minds of future generations of young men and women to see their own impossible dreams become a reality."
The family members also shared a line from his book, “The Last Man on the Moon,” in which he is narrating his experience of walking on the moon to his 5 year old granddaughter. "Your Popie went to Heaven. He really did."
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