Captain Eugene Cernan left on his last mission to space on January 16, 2017. Gene served his country honorably and continuously as a Naval aviator, Gemini and Apollo astronaut, and spokesman and advocate for a strong American space program. As Commander of our December 1972 Apollo 17 mission, he was an outstanding crewmate for the late Captain Ronald Evans, our Command Module Pilot, and myself throughout training and our 12-1/2 days in space.
Fig. 1. Apollo 17 Crew. (Left to Right): Lunar Module Pilot, Harrison H. (Jack) Schmitt, Commander Eugene A. Cernan, and Command Module Pilot, Ron E. Evans, pose on an LRV trainer at Launch Pad 39A on the day of roll-out of their Saturn V launch vehicle, August 28, 1972. (NASA Photo KSC-72PC-436)
Gene also applied himself enthusiastically to learning the basics of lunar field geology, including extensive training in Iceland, the Western United States, and Hawaii. This dedication contributed greatly to the most successful lunar exploration of the Apollo Program. The record 240 pounds of lunar samples, and detailed descriptions and documentation photographs related to them, gathered over three excursions and 22 hours outside the Lunar Module Challenger, are a gift to the future study of the Moon, Earth and planets.
Fig. 2. Jack Schmitt (left) and Gene Cernan (right) inspecting a rock during field training on the Pancake Range of south-central Nevada, September 6, 1972. (NASA photo S72-48859)
Along with Gene Cernan, the nation’s space program recently has seen the passing of Mercury astronaut and Senator John Glenn, Apollo 14 astronaut Captain Edgar Mitchell, and increasing numbers of our operational colleagues who made the Apollo program so successful. Their contributions to America’s lunar missions and to science will never be lost. God speed to them all. Our prayers are with their families, friends and colleagues.
“Geno, I wish you had time for one more run in the LMS before you leave. Have a good flight. Again, God Speed . . .”
Fig. 3. Gene Cernan (left) and Jack Schmitt (right) sharing a moment of levity in the Command Module during trans-Earth coast prior to shaving on Dec. 18, 1972, the day before splash-down. (NASA photo AS17-163-24149)