The death of Eugene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17 and the last human to stand on the lunar surface, prompted a global reaction, starting in Washington with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who summarized his fellow astronaut’s achievements.
“Gene first served his country as a Naval aviator before taking the pilot’s seat on the Gemini 9 mission, where he became the second American to walk in space and helped demonstrate rendezvous techniques that would be important later,” stated Bolden. “As a crew member of both the Apollo 10 and 17 missions, he was one of three men to have flown twice to the Moon. He commanded Apollo 17 and set records that still stand for longest manned lunar landing flight, longest lunar surface extravehicular activities, largest lunar sample return, and longest time in lunar orbit.”
Praise came from Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, as well.
“We express our deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the legendary astronaut Eugene Cernan,” Roscosmos said in a statement.
Apollo missions 7 through 17, launched by NASA in support of the Cold War space race with the former Soviet Union between 1968 and 1972, sent 24 different men to the Moon on nine of the missions. A dozen Apollo astronauts walked on the Moon. Three made the journey to the lunar environs twice, among them Cernan.
Three White House administrations, two Democratic and one Republican, backed the Apollo initiative, which was intended in large part to demonstrate U.S. technical superiority over the Soviets.
Those efforts produced the first lunar landing, Apollo 11’s touchdown on July 20, 1969, with the late Neil Armstrong in command and Buzz Aldrin at his side as lunar module pilot.
Aldrin, enthusiastic in his support for the future human settlement of Mars, noted Cernan’s passing with reverence.
“Gene was probably the strongest spokesman for astronauts for lunar travel and advocating a return to the Moon. He made multiple trips to Washington to give testimony along with Neil Armstrong and Jim Lovell to promote NASA and not losing our pioneering spirit. He wasn’t really a Mars guy like me, but he cared deeply about continuing manned space exploration,” Aldrin stated. “Us astronauts will always remember his cheerful and smiling approach to everything. With the passing of the First Man Neil Armstrong, and the passing of the Last Man Gene Cernan, it is up to us Middle Men to carry the spirit of Apollo into the future for our Nation and the world.”
Armstrong died in 2012.
With Cernan’s death, six of the Apollo Moon walkers survive.
Closer to the Florida launch site for the storied Apollo missions, the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame planned a wreath laying ceremony honoring Cernan two days after his death.
Cernan died Jan. 16 in Houston, while hospitalized for a lingering illness and surrounded by close family members. He was 82.
The former astronaut, Naval aviator and businessman, is survived by his wife, Jan Nanna Cernan, a daughter, two stepdaughters and nine grandchildren.
Funeral services for Cernan are planned at the St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston on Jan. 24 at 2:30 p.m. CST.
A private burial service is planned for a later date at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin, the state’s capitol, with full military honors for the retired U.S. Navy captain.