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Remembering Gene Cernan


Former astronaut Gene Cernan – the last man to set foot on the moon – died over the weekend at the age of 82 from ongoing heath issues.

Gene Cernan was the commander of Apollo 17 – the final lunar mission -- in December 1972. He and Jack Schmitt were the last men on the moon – Cernan the absolute last when Schmitt re-entered lunar module “Challenger” before him.

“As I take man’s last step from the surface, I’d like to just let what history will record that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow,” said Cernan just before stepping off the moon’s surface.

According to NASA, Cernan logged just over 566 hours – more than 24 days -- in space. Seventy-three of those hours were on the moon. After retirement, he was an enthusiastic supporter of the space program.

“To motivate and challenge our children, our grandchildren, and theirs – all who cross the threshold of that quarter-deck over there, so that when they leave they know they are good enough to compete; good enough to be the best,” said Cernan, speaking at the christening of the National Flight Academy aboard NAS Pensacola in 2011.

He added the bar was set high with the USS Ambition – the aircraft carrier-like academy building – and that the status quo was not good enough.

“Our commitment to these young men and women, is that they become leaders of tomorrow,” Cernan said.

Credit NASA
Astronaut Gene Cernan drives the lunar rover during the Apollo 17 mission in December, 1972.

During a visit to the Naval Aviation Museum in 2012, Cernan criticized what he called President Obama’s lack of support for space exploration. That drew the ire of the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington, which called Cernan’s comments “political” – and ordered several days of “quiet time” for museum officials.

But while he hoped some students will follow his path – from naval aviation to the astronaut corps -- Cernan said at the Flight Academy’s christening that its aim is not to make naval aviators out of everyone who walks her decks.

“It would certainly be nice,” said Cernan. “But potential engineers, scientists, doctors – and yes, accountants and teachers – is our goal. With the knowledge and confidence that their aspirations are within their reach.”

Cernan wrapped up his remarks on that warm day in May, by saying “the dreamers of today are the doers of tomorrow.”

“Always shoot for the moon; what have you got to lose?” said Cernan. “Because even if you miss, I can promise you will land somewhere out there among the stars.”