Astronaut Profiles Eugene Cernan

The last human footprints on the moon belong to Eugene Cernan and as there is no atmosphere on the moon, those footprints will remain undisturbed for millennia. As Commander of the last moon mission of the Apollo program Eugene Andrew Cernan wrapped up an historic period in human exploration and was one of only twelve men ever to visit another world in the solar system. His final words on the moon were “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. God speed the crew of Apollo 17.”

Cernan was born on March 14 1934 in the city of Chicago. He studied locally and in 1952 graduated from Proviso Township High School. After gaining a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Purdue University the young Cernan contiunued his education with an MS degree in aeronautical engineering from the US Naval Postrgraduate School.

Eugene Cernan’s interest in aviation had been with him from childhood and it came as no surprise when he went onto serve onboard the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Saipan in 1956. From there he was selected for training at flight school to become a pilot. Training saw him flying a variety of aircraft in Tennessee and Florida before earning his wings in December 1957. Cernan moved to California and flew from the Naval Air Station at Miramar, just outside of San Diego. During his time in the Navy Cernan had accumulated over 2000 hours and over 200 carrier landings to his name.

In 1961 he was selected for training as an astronaut by NASA in a group of fourteen air force and navy personnel. Cernan’s first role was as Capcom for Gemini 7/6, one of the most important roles on the ground keeping in touch with the men in space and anticipating their needs. During this time Eugene Cernan was training for his own flight and was back up crew for Gemini 9, which should have seen the pairing of Elliott See and Charles Bassett in space. The latter were tragically killed in an air crash on February 28 1966 and Cernan and Thomas Stafford were pushed forward to take their flight. During the mission Cernan made a, then record, two and half hour spacewalk.

Cernan’s second spaceflight was on Apollo 10 as lunar module pilot flying the lunar lander, Snoopy to within ten miles of the lunar surface. On January 23 1971 Eugene Cernan’s chances of commanding the last Apollo mission seemed to be dashed when he crashed a helicopter into the Banana River near the Kennedy Space Center. However, his injuries were slight and he made a full recovery in time to blast off as commander of Apollo 17 alongside Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmitt.

After his historic moon mission Cernan worked on the joint NASA Soviet Soyuz Apollo mission. He left NASA in 1976 and joined Coral Petroleum as Vice President before establishing his own company, Cernan Corporation that works within the aviation industry.