Eugene “Gene” Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon during 1972’s Apollo 17 mission, passed away Monday at the age of 82.
Cernan was a Naval aviator and logged more than 5,000 hours of flying time with 4,800 of those logged in jet aircraft.
In addition to being the last man on the moon, Cernan was one of only three people to travel to the moon on two separate occasions, the others being Jim Lovell and John Young. He was also one of only 12 people to walk on the moon.
He was chosen for the Lunar Module Pilot of Apollo 16, which would have given him another opportunity to walk on the moon, but he turned it down so he could command his own mission. Eight months later, he commanded the Apollo 17 crew.
“Today, we lost yet another hero,” fellow astronaut and moon walker Buzz Aldrin wrote of his friend in a statement. “Gene Cernan and I met for the first time when we were selected for the third group of astronauts in November of 1963. We started our training together in January 1964, and eventually worked together as the backup crew of Gemini 9. He was a Navy guy, and I was Air Force, so there was always a friendly dose of ribbing and trying to one-up each other that continued to this day …”
Although Aldrin left NASA before Cernan’s Apollo 17 mission, Aldrin said his friend “served the nation extremely well on his mission with Ron Evans and the first scientist astronaut, Jack Schmitt.”
Aldrin also shared that Cernan’s distinction as the last man on the moon was one he did not relish.
“It [Apollo 17] was the final mission to the moon, but our hopes had been that we would press forward and eventually be on Mars as the next destination,” Aldrin wrote. “Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened, and Gene is the last person to step foot on another celestial body. He was the last man on the moon, and he wasn’t happy about that and continually stressed that he didn’t want to be the last.”
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