RIP Eugene Cernan: Last man on the Moon dies aged 82

Apollo 10 and 17 astronaut, moonwalker, spacewalker, pioneer

Eugene Cernan, the last man to leave footprints on the Moon, has died aged 82.

One of 14 astronauts chosen by NASA in 1963, Cernan's space career included two trips to the Moon (the second as commander of Apollo 17), and the second spacewalk by a United States astronaut. His two-hour spacewalk took place during the three-day Gemini 9 mission in 1966.

Cernan's first flight to the moon was as a pathfinder for the first Moon landing: he was the lunar module pilot on the Apollo 10 mission. As NASA notes, that mission was “the first comprehensive lunar-orbital qualification and verification test of the lunar lander”.

Cernan and Thomas Stafford ran a dress rehearsal for Apollo 11, flying the lander to within eight nautical miles of the Moon's surface. John Young was Apollo 10's command module pilot, remaining in the main vehicle during the lander test.

His trip to the Moon's surface was the last rather than the first, but along the way Cernan and co-crew Harrison Schmitt (who also visited the surface) and Ronald Evans (command module pilot) set a bunch of records: “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).”

Before retiring from NASA in 1976, Cernan also served on the planning crew for the Apollo-Soyuz module rendezvous, later working in the energy industry; as an aerospace consultant; and finally as an ABC news correspondent covering early Space Shuttle flights.

NASA has not disclosed a cause of death, saying only that Cernan was surrounded by his family when he passed. ®

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