Eugene A. Cernan left his mark on history during three historic missions in space. Having flown to the moon not once, but twice, he also holds the distinction of being the second American to walk in space and the last human to leave his footprints on the lunar surface. In October 1963, Cernan was a member of a select group of 14 NASA astronauts. He piloted the Gemini IX mission, a 3 day flight launched 3 June 1966. The spacecraft achieved a circular orbit of 161 statute miles and Cernan logged 2 hours and 10 minutes outside the craft.
In May 1969, he was the lunar module pilot of Apollo X, the first comprehensive lunar-orbital qualification/verification test of an Apollo lunar module. Apollo X confirmed the performance, stability, and reliability of the command/service and lunar modules during specific operations, and included a descent to within 8 nautical miles of the lunar surface. Apollo X demonstrated that humans could navigate safely and accurately in the moon's gravitational fields. Cernan's space exploration continued with the last scheduled US-manned mission to the moon 7 December 1972. This time he commanded Apollo XVII, the first manned nighttime launch. Assisted by Harrison H. (Jack) Schmitt, Cernan maneuvered the module "Challenger" to a landing on the moon at the Taurus-Littrow region.
They activated an operations base from which they completed three highly successful excursions to nearby craters and the Taurus Mountains, making the moon their home for over 3 days. This final moon mission established several new records including: longest manned lunar landing flight (301 hours 51 minutes); longest lunar surface stay (over 75 hours); longest lunar surface extravehicular activities (22 hours 6 minutes); largest lunar sample return (249 lbs); and longest time in lunar orbit. Apollo XVII ended with a splashdown in the Pacific only 0.4 miles from the target and 4.3 miles from the recovery ship. Cernan spent 20 years as a naval aviator, including 13 years with NASA. From 1973-75, he served as Senior US Negotiator concerning the joint US-Soviet Apollo/Soyuz project.
His honors include the Navy Distinguished Flying Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal with Star, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the FAI International Gold Medal for Space, the VFW Gold Space Award, the Daughters of the American Revolution Medal of Honor, induction into the US Space Hall of Fame, and a television Emmy. Today, he is President and CEO of the Cernan Corporation and the Cernan Group, Inc., space-related technology and marketing consulting firms. He is also Chairman of the Board of Johnson Engineering Corporation. He has provided live TV commentary during several space launches.
On 17 December 1972, Eugene Cernan paused to gaze upon his strangely beautiful surroundings for one last time. Only eleven other men had ever experienced what he was seeing. Cernan was about to close one of the greatest chapters in the history of humanity. As the last man on the moon prepared to depart, he spoke these words, "....America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. As we leave the moon and Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came, and, God willing, we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind."