Cernan was the commander of Apollo 17, which lifted off in December 1972. It was the last lunar mission and one of the final flights in the Apollo program.
When Cernan left the lunar module “Challenger” and stepped onto the Moon’s surface he became the 11th man to walk on that celestial body. Lunar module pilot Harrison “Jack” Schmitt was the 12th.
Last man to walk on Moon
But as commander, Cernan was the last person back on board the lunar module prior to liftoff to rejoin the command module circling above, a fact that earned him the moniker of being the last man to walk on the Moon.
The words he spoke from the lunar surface did not become as famous as those uttered by Neil Armstrong several years earlier. Nevertheless, Cernan’s last goodbye to the satellite was almost as poetic.
“America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow … We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind,” Cernan said.
The story of man’s last landing on the Moon was recounted in the 2007 documentary “The Last Man on the Moon,” in which Cernan explained the extraordinary set of feelings and sensations he experienced while walking on the lunar surface.
Before being tapped for a Moon mission, Cernan had served as the lunar module pilot on Apollo 10 and, a few years before, had been the pilot on the Earth-orbiting Gemini 9 mission.
On Apollo 10, Cernan and commander Tom Stafford flew just 13 kilometers (8 miles) above the Moon’s surface in a “dress rehearsal” for the historic Apollo 11 mission two months later that landed Armstrong and “Buzz” Aldrin in the Sea of Tranquility.
The astronaut accumulated 566 hours and 15 minutes in space, of which 73 hours were spent on the Moon’s surface, according to NASA.
Born in Chicago in 1934, Cernan received a B.S. in electrical engineering from Purdue University and a M.S. in aeronautical engineering at the Naval Postgraduate School. He became a Navy captain and was selected to be part of the third group of NASA astronauts in 1963.
He retired from NASA and the Navy in 1976 and, with his death, now only six men remain alive who have walked on the lunar surface. EFEfuturo