Astronaut Eugene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17 and the last man to walk on the moon, has died at the age of 82.
The family announced that he passed away on Monday following ongoing health issues.
‘It is with very deep sadness that we share the loss of our beloved husband and father,’ said Cernan’s family. ‘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.’
Cernan, a captain in the United States Navy, left his mark on the history of exploration by flying three times in space, twice to the moon.
He also holds the distinction of being the second American to walk in space and the last human to leave his footprints on the lunar surface.
He was one of 14 astronauts selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in October 1963. He piloted the Gemini 9 mission with Commander Thomas P Stafford on a three-day flight in June 1966. Cernan logged more than two hours outside the orbiting capsule.
In May 1969, he was the lunar module pilot of Apollo 10, the first comprehensive lunar-orbital qualification and verification test of the lunar lander.
The mission confirmed the performance, stability, and reliability of the Apollo command, service and lunar modules. The mission included a descent to within eight nautical miles of the moon’s surface.
Cernan concluded his historic space exploration career as commander of the last human mission to the moon in December 1972.
Apollo 17 established several new records for human space flight, including the longest lunar landing flight (301 hours, 51 minutes); longest lunar surface extravehicular activities (22 hours, 6 minutes); largest lunar sample return (nearly 249 pounds); and longest time in lunar orbit (147 hours, 48 minutes).
Cernan and crewmate Harrison H. (Jack) Schmitt completed three highly successful excursions to the nearby craters and the Taurus-Littrow mountains, making the moon their home for more than three days.
As he left the lunar surface, Cernan said, “America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. As we leave the moon and Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came, and, God willing, we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.”
NASA administrator Charles Bolden remembered not only his accomplishments with the US Navy and NASA, but Cernan’s desire to inspire students ‘to dare to dream and explore’.
Cernan is survived by his wife, Jan Nanna Cernan, his daughter and son-in-law Tracy Cernan Woolie and Marion, step-daughters Kelly Nanna Taff and her husband Michael; and Danielle Nanna Ellis and nine grandchildren.