Astronaut Eugene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17 and the last man to walk on the moon, died Jan. 16, 2017.
Cernan, a Captain in the U.S. 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.
Cernan was one of 14 astronauts selected by NASA 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.
In a 2007 interview for NASA’s oral histories, Cernan said, “I keep telling Neil Armstrong that we painted that white line in the sky all the way to the Moon down to 47,000 feet so he wouldn’t get lost, and all he had to do was land. Made it sort of easy for him.”
Cernan concluded his historic space exploration career as commander of the last human mission to the moon in December 1972. En route to the moon, the crew captured an iconic photo of the home planet, with an entire hemisphere fully illumnitated — a “whole Earth” view showing Africa, the Arabian peninsula and the south polar ice cap. The hugely popular photo was referred to by some as the “Blue Marble,” a title in use for an ongoing series of NASA Earth imagery.
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).
On July 1, 1976, Cernan retired from the Navy after 20 years and ended his NASA career. He went into private business and served as television commentator for early flights of the space shuttle. (NASA)
Here’s a look back.