America lost one of its aviation heroes yesterday when Eugene Andrew “Gene” Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, died in a hospital in Houston, Texas, at the age of 82. Cernan, commander of the Apollo 17 mission, walked on the moon on 14 December 1972, one of only a dozen men who have walked on the lunar surface.
Cernan died just a few weeks after America lost another of its aviation heroes, astronaut John Glenn, who in 1962 became the first American to orbit the Earth. Glenn died on 8 December 2016.
Cernan is remembered for something poignant he did just before climbing up the ladder of the lunar module to leave the moon’s surface: he traced his daughter’s initials in the dusty soil. Reaching down with his finger, he drew the letters “TDC” – for his then nine-year-old daughter, Teresa Dawn Cernan.
Cernan’s obituary, shown below, reprinted his reflections on that very personal moment. He said that someday, far in the future, someone else would be on the moon’s surface and find:
…our footprints and those initials and say, “I wonder who was here? Some ancient civilization was here back in the 20th century, and look at the funny marks they made.”
His obituary also reprinted remarks Cernan had made in 2007, reflecting back on the moment when he and fellow astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt had set the lunar lander Challenger down on the moon’s surface. After switching off the lander’s engines, they were overwhelmed by the silence:
That’s where you experience the most quiet moment a human being can experience in his lifetime. There’s no vibration. There’s no noise. The ground quit talking. Your partner is mesmerized. He can’t say anything. The dust is gone. It’s a realization, a reality, all of a sudden you have just landed in another world on another body out there (somewhere in the) universe, and what you are seeing is being seen by human beings – human eyes – for the first time.
Here is Cernan’s obituary, published today by the Chicago Tribune:
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