Former astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, has died at age 82. Captain Cernan logged 566 hours and 15 minutes in space – of which more than 73 hours were spent on the surface of the moon.
Captain Cernan was the second American to have walked in space, having spanned the circumference of the world twice in a little more than two and a half hours. He was one of the two men to have flown to the moon on two occasions, and as commander of the last mission to the moon, Apollo 17, was the last man to have left his footprints on the surface of the moon.
— NASA (@NASA) January 16, 2017
Captain Cernan was one of fourteen astronauts selected by NASA in October 1963.
He occupied the pilot seat alongside of command pilot Tom Stafford on the Gemini IX mission. During this 3-day flight which Began on 3 June 1966. Cernan logged two hours and ten minutes outside the spacecraft. The flight ended after 72 hours and 20 minutes with a “perfect” re-entry and recovery. Cernan subsequently served as backup pilot for Gemini 12 and as backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 7.
On his second space flight, he was lunar module pilot of Apollo 10, from 18-26 May 1969 – the first comprehensive lunar-orbital qualification and verification flight test of an Apollo lunar module. He was accompanied on the 248,000 nautical sojourn to the moon by Thomas P. Stafford (spacecraft commander) and John W. Young (commander module pilot).
As well as demonstrating that man could navigate safely and accurately in the moon’s gravitational fields, Apollo 10 photographed and mapped tentative landing sites for future missions.
Cernan’s next assignment was backup spacecraft commander for Apollo 14.
He made his third space flight as spacecraft commander of Apollo 17 – the last scheduled manned mission to the moon for the United States – from 6-19 December 6 1972. With him on the voyage of the command module “America” and the lunar module “Challenger” were Ronald Evans (command module pilot) and Harrison H. (Jack) Schmitt (lunar module pilot).
In maneuvering “Challenger” to a landing at Taurus-Littrow, located on the southeast edge of Mare Serenitatis, Cernan and Schmitt activated a base of operations from which they completed three highly successful excursions to the nearby craters and the Taurus mountains, making the Moon their home for over three days.
This last mission to the moon established several new records for manned space flight including the 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).
In September, 1973, Cernan assumed additional duties as Special Assistant to the Program Manager of the Apollo spacecraft Program at the Johnson Space Center. In this capacity, he assisted in the planning, development, and evaluation of the joint United States/Soviet Union Apollo-Soyuz mission, and he acted for the program manager as the senior United States negotiator in direct discussions with the USSR on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.
Captain Cerne was awarded two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, the JSC Superior Achievement Award, two Navy Distinguished Service Medals, the Navy Astronaut Wings, the Navy Distinguished Flying Cross, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Special Trustees Award (1969), the Federation Aeronautique Internationale Gold Space Medal for 1972, the Cities of Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York Gold Medals, the VFW National Space Medal in 1973, Daughters of The American Revolution Medal of Honor, Induction into the U.S. Space Hall of Fame, the Challenger Center’s “Salute to the U.S. Space Program” Honor, Slovak World Recognition Award and Slovak Presidential Medal of Honor.