Military Heroes and Legends of Aerospace: Captain Gene Cernan
On Patrol staff
“As I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come – but we believe not too long into the future – I’d like to just [say] what I believe history will record – that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17.”
Gene Cernan, a Chicago, Illinois, native, began his career with an electrical engineering degree from Purdue University. At Purdue, he went through the Navy ROTC program, entering flight training upon graduation in 1956.
During his Navy career, Cernan was assigned to Attack Squadrons 26 and 112 at what was then Naval Air Station Miramar, California. He also attended the Naval Postgraduate School where he earned a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering.
Cernan was one of 14 astronauts selected by NASA in October 1963. Yet, he didn’t take his first flight into space until June 3, 1966, when he piloted the Gemini 9 mission alongside command pilot Tom Stafford.
On his second space flight, May 18, 1969, he served as the lunar module pilot on the first comprehensive lunar-orbital qualification and flight test of an Apollo lunar module.
Cernan was space-bound yet again in 1972 as the spacecraft commander of Apollo 17, the United States’ last scheduled mission to the moon. It was also the first manned nighttime launch. Cernan and Harrison H. Schmitt, the lunar module pilots, landed on the surface of the moon at the southeast edge of Mare Serenitatis where they conducted three excursions to nearby craters and the Taurus Mountains over three days. The Apollo 17 mission broke several records including the longest manned lunar-landing flight at 301 hours and 51 minutes.
Captain Cernan retired three years after leaving man’s last footprint on the moon. During his time at NASA, he logged 566 hours and 15 minutes in space; more than 73 hours of which were spent on the surface of the moon. He also logged more than 5,000 hours flying time with 4,800 hours in jet aircraft and more than 200 jet aircraft carrier landings.
Cernan was awarded two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, two Navy Distinguished Service Medals, and the Navy Distinguished Flying Cross, among many other honors.
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