US austronaut Eugene Cernan, the last human to have set foot on the moon, died today, NASA said. He was 82.
Cernan was a Navy pilot before joining the space program, where he had an accomplished career. He went to space three times, and made two trips to the moon. His last, as commander of the Apollo 17 mission in Dec. 1972, was the one in which he walked on its surface.
Four days and many miles after launch, Cernan and fellow astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt landed their lunar module. “We’d like to dedicate the first steps of Apollo 17 to all those who made it possible,” Cernan said upon exiting the craft and stepping foot onto the moon. “Oh my golly! Unbelievable!”
According to his autobiography, The Last Man on the Moon, before returning to the module Cernan drove the lunar rover to a spot where he could set up a camera to capture their departure. He knelt there, and wrote the initials of his daughter, Tracy, into the moon’s surface: TDC. Because the moon has no atmosphere or liquid water to disturb the marks, they may exist nearly as long as the moon itself.
That trip was the last time NASA sent people to the moon.
“It is with very deep sadness that we share the loss of our beloved husband and father,” Cernan’s family, who was with him when he died, said in a statement. “Even at the age of 82, Gene was passionate about sharing his desire to see the continued human exploration of space and encouraged our nation’s leaders and young people to not let him remain the last man to walk on the Moon.”
Recently, John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, also died, at the age of 95.