Gene Cernan, an early NASA astronaut who was the last man to set foot on the moon, died Monday. He was 82.
Cernan was the commander of Apollo 17 in December of 1972. It was the last lunar mission and one of the final Apollo flights. When Cernan stepped out from lunar module “Challenger” he became the 11th person to walk on the moon. His lunar module pilot, Jack Schmitt, was the 12th. But as commander, Cernan was the last to re-enter the lunar module, giving him the designation of being the last person to walk on the lunar surface.
His words would not become as famous as Neil Armstrong’s first sentence spoken from the moon. But Cernan’s final goodbye to the moon was just as poetic . . .
“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.”
In the 2007 documentary, “In the Shadow of the Moon,” Cernan spoke of the epiphany he experienced while standing on the desolate – yet majestic – surface.
“There is too much purpose, too much logic, it was just too beautiful to happen by accident,” Cernan said. “There has to be somebody bigger than you and bigger than me. And I mean this in a spiritual sense, not in a religious sense. There has to be a creator of the universe who stands above the religions that we ourselves create to govern our lives.”
Gene Cernan was an American hero, a trailblazer of the highest order. We honor this giant of a man who, 44 years ago, touched the face of the moon – and in the process touched the face of God.