Apollo astronaut Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the surface of the Moon, passed away on Monday at the age of 82.
The famed astronaut passed away in a Houston hospital surrounded by family. The family of Eugene Cernan stated he was suffering from ongoing health issues, however, additional details regarding his cause of death were not immediately available.
“We are saddened by the loss of retired NASA astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon,” NASA said in a statement posted to Twitter.
“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,” the family said in a statement.
Eugene Cernan was one of 14 astronauts selected for NASA’s third astronaut class in 1963. His first spaceflight occurred in 1966 as pilot of the Gemini 9 mission, alongside Commander Thomas P. Stafford. Cernan went on to assume the role of lunar module pilot for Apollo 10, the mission which served as a dry run for the first Moon landing.
Cernan’s final spaceflight came as commander of the Apollo 17, the final human mission to land on the Moon. The mission would make Cernan the eleventh of only twelve humans to have ever walked on the surface of another world.
In addition to being the final human mission to the Moon, Apollo 17 is perhaps best known for an image captured not of the moon, but of the Earth. As the spacecraft was en route to the Moon, the crew of Apollo 17 captured one of the most iconic images in spaceflight history, in a photo that has become widely known as “The Blue Marble.” The photo depicts the Earth as a whole contained within a single image.
Pondering the significance of the unique perspective from which the crew were able to view the Earth, Cernan said, “We went to explore the Moon, and in fact discovered the Earth.”
As the last of his crew to re-enter the lunar module at the conclusion of their mission, Cernan became the last man to have walked on the moon, a title he hoped he wouldn’t retain for long.
As Cernan prepared to enter the lunar module, he uttered these final words from the surface of the moon:
“I’m on the surface; and, as I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come – but we believe not too long into the future – I’d like to just (say) what I believe history will record: that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And, 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. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17”
After two decades of service, Cernan retired from NASA in July 1976. Upon leaving the agency, he went on to work in private business, including starting his own aerospace consulting firm, The Cernan Co., and serving as a contributor for ABC News, where he covered, among other things, early space shuttle launches.
In 2016, a documentary about Cernan’s life titled “The Last Man on the Moon” was released. The film was based on Cernan’s 1999 memoir of the same name. Cernan is also featured in the documentary, “In the Shadow of the Moon,” where he is quoted as saying, “Nobody can take those footsteps I made on the surface of the moon away from me.”