December, 1972; Apollo 17 marks another page in the history books. It’s the closing lunar mission, and one of the final Apollo flights. Being furthest back to step onto the spacecraft, Eugene Cernan leaves a poetic farewell.
“…America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow,” Cernan said. “And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus- Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17.”
While Cernan served as lunar module pilot of Apollo 10 and was a pilot on the Gemini IX mission, it was on Apollo 17 where he experienced an epiphany.
“There is too much purpose, too much logic, it was just too beautiful to happen by accident! There has to be somebody bigger than you and bigger than me…And I mean this in a spiritual sense, not in a religious sense, there has to be a creator of the universe who stands above the religions that we ourselves create to govern our lives.”
Cernan spoke of his experiences on the majestic surface in the 2007 documentary “In The Shadow Of The Moon”. One famous story about his trip is that he wrote his daughter Tracy’s initials in the lunar dust. It inspired the pop group “No More Kings” to write their hit, Tracy’s Song.
According to NASA, Cernan logged 566 hours and 15 minutes in space, of which 73 hours were spent on the surface of the moon. After-which, Cernan retired from both NASA and the Navy in 1976.
Cernan was born in Chicago in 1934. Before joining NASA, he received an electrical engineering degree from Purdue and a Masters of Science in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. When selected to be part of NASA’s third group of astronauts in 1963, he was already a Navy Captain.
After retiring from NASA, Cernan went on to be a contributor to ABC News and Good Morning America. He was often seen on the weekly “Breakthrough” segment, which featured advances in medicine, science and technology. His 1999 Memoir “The Last Man on the Moon” led to the book and documentary, both titled “In the Shadow of the Moon.”
On May 13, 2010, Cernan appeared with Neil Armstrong to oppose Obama’s cancellation of the Constellation Program. He believed in Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration to return humans to the Moon and possibly even to Mars.
In 2016, Cernan appeared in the documentary, The Last Man on the Moon, made by British filmmaker Mark Craig. The film took nine years to complete and received several awards. Namely, the Texas Independent Film Award from Houston Film Critics and the Movies for Grownups Award from AARP The Magazine. It is now deemed his final project.
Cernan’s death leaves six astronauts remaining who have walked on the moon.