'Last man to leave footprints of the moon' has died

Posted January 18, 2017

"We'd like to dedicate the first steps of Apollo 17 to all those who made it possible", the astronaut radioed upon exiting the lander. Have a good flight.

The last man to walk on the moon, Eugene A Cernan, has died aged 82. A holder of multiple space records, Cernan was Commander of the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, one of only 12 astronauts to walk on Moon - of which only six survive - and a staunch U.S. space program advocate.

The Apollo 17 was the last of the NASA's lunar mission program and was performed on December 1972. He found himself on the backup crew for Gemini 9, along with Thomas Stafford, until the primary crew was tragically killed in a plane crash before launch.

Some in the astronaut office resented Schmitt's assignment to the crew, arguing experienced test pilots were more valuable in a risky space mission than a scientist. "Enriched by a singular event that is larger than life, I no longer have the luxury of being ordinary".

His family confirmed his sad demise on Monday, and stated that he always wanted today's generation to continue the legacy and not to let him remain the last man to walk on the moon.

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It's not great timing either; the images were released the day after Japanese PM Shinzo Abe visited Australia on a state visit.

Details about Cernan's death have not been announced. (Jack) Schmitt, a trained geologist with a doctorate from Harvard, served as lunar module pilot. He played a key role in the joint United States/Soviet Union Apollo-Soyuz mission.

Cernan left NASA a few years later, in 1976, and went into the private sector. A member of the 1969 Apollo 10 lunar mission, Cernan, along with the two others, participated in a "rehearsal" of the endeavor that ultimately landed a person on the moon. At the conclusion of that flight, Cernan's time in space stood at 566 hours and 15 minutes, including more than 73 hours on the surface of the moon. "The last man on the moon, but he didn't want to be", tweeted Tim Kopra, who commanded the 47th expedition on board the International Space Station in 2016. "Made it sort of easy for him", Cernan said in an interview for an oral history of NASA, according to the press release. Overall, he logged more than 500 hours in space.

He confessed to only a few regrets in his 80-plus years of life: A U.S. Naval aviator, he struggled to come to grips with the fact that so numerous men he trained with went off to fight the Vietnam war while he got the glory duty of flying to the moon. He is only one of three men who have flown twice to the moon. "Perhaps the most articulate of the moon-walking astronauts, he felt that it was his mission to make his audiences feel as if they had been there too".

Cernan is survived by his second wife, the former Jan Nanna, and his daughter, Teresa Cernan Woolie, whose initials he drew in moon dust, a tribute likely to last for eons on the airless surface. "It is with very deep sadness that we share the loss of our beloved husband and father", the family said.

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