Captain Eugene “Gene” Cernan–commander of the final lunar landing mission Apollo 17–died today. He was the last astronaut to leave his footprints on the surface of the moon.
Cernan, the son of Slovak and Czech immigrants, was born in 1934 in Chicago, Illinois. He received an electrical engineering degree from Purdue and later earned a Masters of Science in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. He became a captain in the U.S. Navy, and in 1963, he was one of 14 astronauts selected by NASA to participate in the Gemini and Apollo Programs.
Captain Cernan holds the distinction of traveling into space three times. In 1966, he was the pilot of the Gemini 9A mission. In 1969, he was a lunar module pilot of the Apollo 10 mission. And in 1972, he was the commander of the Apollo 17 mission—the final Apollo lunar landing. He was the last human to walk on the moon, and as he left the lunar surface, Cernan spoke the following words: