The last man to walk on the moon, Eugene A Cernan, has died aged 82.
On December 14, 1972, he followed Harrison Schmitt into the lunar ascent module Challenger before it took off from the Taurus Littrow Valley on the moon’s surface to rejoin the late Ron Evans aboard the command module America, which was in lunar orbit ready to return all three astronauts to earth.
Apollo 17 was the last manned mission to the moon, the first landing having been by the late Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in the course of the Apollo 11 mission of July 1969.
However Cernan, usually called ‘Gene’, also become one of three astronauts yet to have flown to the moon twice, as in May 1969, he was the lunar module pilot of Apollo 10, a full dress rehearsal for Apollo 11 in everything except a moon landing.
On that mission Gene Cernan flew to within 8.4 nautical miles of the lunar surface with Thomas Stafford before rejoining John Young in the command module in lunar orbit.
It was a case of going so far to be so close, and Apollo 10 validated critical procedures including lunar de-orbit, a landing approach set-up, and a lunar orbit rendevous for the return part of the mission.
Cernan’s death leaves only six of the 12 Apollo moonwalkers alive, the second youngest of which, Harrison Schmitt aged 81, was with him on the three rover assisted explorations at the Taurus Littrow site in 1972. (The youngest by three months is Charles Duke, on the Apollo 16 mission, who like Schmitt turns 82 later this year.)
As he made the last steps of mankind’s first physical explorations of the surface of the moon Eugene Cernan said:
“We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return with peace and hope for all mankind.”