Astronaut Eugene “Gene” Cernan, Commander of Apollo 17 and the most recent person to stand on the surface of the moon, has died at age 82, as reported by Astronomy magazine. The cause of death is not immediately known, but NASA did report that Cernan passed away “surrounded by his family.”
Gene Cernan led the final manned mission to the moon in 1972, but his contributions to aviation and space exploration span decades. A naval officer and aviator who accumulated over 5,000 flight hours, Cernan was recruited to NASA in 1963. He flew spaceflight missions during Project Gemini, when the technologies required for astronauts to fly to the moon and back were developed. He then flew to the moon twice, first to orbit as the Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 10, and then to land as the Commander of Apollo 17. He was the last to board the Lunar Module Challenger, leaving the moon’s surface untouched by human boots since.
In 1958, Captain Eugene Cernan became a Naval Aviator at age 24. Stationed at Miramar, California, Cernan flew FJ-4 Fury and A-4 Skyhawk jets as part of Attack Squadrons 126 and 112. Upon completing his assignment, he returned to school, and in 1963 he received a Master’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. That very year, Cernan became one of fourteen people selected for NASA’s Astronaut Group 3, along with Buzz Aldrin. The two men were the first NASA astronauts selected with military fighter jet experience, rather than test pilot experience like the rest of Group 3.