Astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man to step foot on the moon, has died at the age of 82. He will be remembered for making invaluable contributions to the U.S. Space Program.
During his 14-year astronaut career at NASA, Cernan went into space a record three times.
The agency confirmed his death on Monday through a social media post.
Cernan joined NASA in 1963 and made his space debut as a pilot for the three-day Gemini 9 mission in 1966.
“We are saddened by the loss of retired NASA astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon,” the agency wrote on its Twitter handle.
Within a 6-week period, the U.S. has lost two of its space heroes. John Glenn, another American astronaut who made history in 1962 as the first U.S. citizen to go round the earth, passed away barely six weeks ago.
Media reports confirm that Cernan logged more than two hours during his historic Gemini 9 mission to become America’s second Astronaut to walk in space.
According to a report from CNET, Cernan’s second journey into space was as the lunar module pilot of Apollo 10 in 1969, which was considered the dress rehearsal for the first moon landing because it achieved all the necessary objectives short of an actual lunar landing. During the mission, the lunar module entered an orbit 8.4 nautical miles from the moon’s surface, the point at which a descent for landing would begin.
Speaking in a 2007 NASA interview, Cernan said: “I keep telling Neil Armstrong that we painted that white line in the sky all the way to the Moon down to 47,000 feet so he wouldn’t get lost, and all he had to do was land.
“Made it sort of easy for him,” he added.
A biography from NASA says Cernan’s last trip to space was as commander of Apollo 17 in 1972, the last scheduled US manned mission to the moon. The mission crew set several records for human space flight, including the longest lunar landing flight (301 hours, 51 minutes); longest lunar surface extravehicular activities (22 hours, 6 minutes); largest lunar sample return (nearly 249 pounds) and longest time in lunar orbit (147 hours, 48 minutes).
In total, Cernan spent more than 566 hours in space, recording 73 hours on the moon’s surface.
On its way to the moon, the crew captured the iconic “Blue Marble” photo of Earth, showing the Mediterranean Sea area to the Antarctica South polar ice cap. This was the first time a spacecraft’s trajectory allowed astronauts to photograph the South polar ice cap.
During this mission, Cernan became the 11th man to walk on the moon as well as the last to leave his footprints on its surface. As he left the moon for the journey back to Earth, he voiced hope that one day man would return to the moon.
“America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow,” Cernan said.
“As we leave the moon and Taurus-Littrow [mountains], we leave as we came, and, God willing, we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.”