Gene Cernan belonged to an elite club: he flew to the Moon twice and was the last human to walk on its surface, in December 1972.
Gene Cernan belonged to an elite club: he flew to the Moon twice and was the last human to walk on its surface, in December 1972.

Astronaut, Safety Advocate Gene Cernan Dies

Eugene Andrew (Gene) Cernan, the last person to stand on the Moon, has passed away at the age of 82. During his two decades as a Naval aviator, Cernan spent 13 years with NASA, leading to three historic space missions: as pilot of Gemini 9, lunar module pilot of Apollo 10, and commander of Apollo 17.

The second American to walk in space, he flew to the Moon twice. As commander of Apollo 17 he became the last to walk on the Moon, in December 1972. He landed at Taurus-Littrow aboard the Challenger lunar module and spent three days on the lunar surface. That mission set a number of records, including longest lunar landing flight, longest lunar surface extravehicular activities, largest and heaviest amount of lunar surface samples collected, and longest time in lunar orbit.

While known for his space missions, Cernan was an avid pilot who logged more than 5,000 flight hours and whose type ratings included the Learjet 45. He also was deeply involved in aviation safety, becoming known as the “public face of Bombardier’s Safety Standdown,” said the National Business Aviation Association.

Cernan, who would remind pilots that “good is never good enough in our world of aviation,” spent more than a decade on the Safety Standdown Advisory Council and as the program’s ambassador. Bombardier paid tribute to his service in 2015 and created the Eugene Cernan Safety Award in his honor.

The NBAA honored Cernan with its Meritorious Service to Aviation Award in 2013 at its annual convention, where he often joined other aviation legends in presenting the National Aviation Hall of Fame’s yearly Combs Gates Award.

“Gene Cernan is an American legend whose life will long be a source of inspiration,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. “He was a champion of the global aviation community and a hero to the next generation of aerospace pioneers. He left his footprints on the Moon and an indelible mark on our hearts.”

Born on March 14, 1934 in Bellwood, Illinois, Cernan became interested in aviation watching newsreels of World War II fighter pilots, the San Diego Air & Space Museum recounts. He graduated from Purdue University in 1956 and entered the U.S. Navy after that. He served as a fighter pilot, and in 1963, received a master's of science in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, California.

“As a member of the International Air & Space Hall of Fame, a Naval aviator who trained right here in San Diego, and as a regular visitor to our museum, Gene will always hold a special place at the San Diego Air & Space Museum,” said Jim Kidrick, president and CEO of the San Diego Air & Space Museum.