Eugene A. “Gene” Cernan was born in Chicago, Illinois, on March 14, 1934. A graduate of Proviso Township High School in Maywood, Illinois, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Purdue University in 1956, and a Master of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the U. S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California in 1964. Cernan was given an Honorary Doctorate of Law degree by the Western State University College of Law in 1969 and Honorary Doctorate degrees of Engineering by Purdue University in 1970, and Drexel University in 1977.
Eugene Cernan received his initial commission through the Navy ROTC Program at Purdue and entered flight training upon graduation. He was assigned to Attack Squadrons 26 and 112 at the Miramar Naval Air Station in California then attended the Naval Postgraduate School. Cernan has logged more than 5,000 hours flying time with more than 4,800 hours in jet aircraft and over 200 jet aircraft landings.
Captain Cernan was one of fourteen astronauts selected by NASA in October 1963. He was the Pilot and Tom Stafford the Command pilot on the Gemini IX mission, launched on June 3, 1966. They used three different techniques to effect rendezvous with a previously launched “Augmented Target Docking Adapter.” Cernan also became the second American to walk in space, logging two hours and ten minutes outside the spacecraft in extravehicular activities (EVAs) while making two complete orbits of the Earth. Gemini IX ended after 72 hours and 20 minutes with a perfect re-entry and recovery as the capsule landed less than one and a half miles of the prime recovery ship USS Wasp and only half a mile from the predetermined target.
Eugene Cernan then served as backup Pilot for Gemini XII and as backup Lunar Module pilot for Apollo 7. On his second space flight, he was the Lunar Module pilot on Apollo 10, launched on May 18, 1969. This was the first comprehensive lunar-orbital qualification and verification flight test of an Apollo lunar module. With Cernan on the 248,000-mile sojourn to the moon were Thomas P. Stafford (Spacecraft Commander) and John W. Young (Command Module pilot). In accomplishing all assigned objectives of this mission, Apollo 10 confirmed the operations performance, stability, and reliability of the command/service module and lunar module configuration during trans-lunar coast, lunar orbit insertion, and lunar module separation and descent to within eight nautical miles of the lunar surface. The descent employed all but the final minutes of the technique prescribed for use in an actual lunar landing and allowed critical evaluations of the lunar module propulsions systems and rendezvous of the landing radar devices in subsequent rendezvous and re-docking maneuvers.
In addition to demonstrating that man could navigate safely and accurately in the moon’s gravitational field, Apollo 10 photographed and mapped tentative landing sites for future missions. During the voyage home, the crew also achieved the highest speed ever attained by humans, 24,790 miles per hour, a record that still stands. Apollo 10 ended its 192-hour trip to the Moon on May 26, 1969, with a safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
Cernan’s next assignment was backup Commander for Apollo 14, in 1971. He made his third and final space flight as Commander of Apollo 17, the last manned mission to the moon, launched on December 6, 1972. This was the first manned nighttime launch, and the engines of the massive Saturn V rocket lit up the Florida sky like a second sun. With him on the voyage of the Command Module America and the Lunar Module Challenger were Ronald Evans (Command Module pilot) and Harrison “Jack” Schmitt (Lunar Module pilot). Once lunar orbit had been achieved the two modules separated. After maneuvering Challenger to a landing at Taurus-Littrow, located on the southeast edge of Mare Serenitatis, Cernan and Schmitt activated a base of operations from which they completed three highly successful excursions to nearby craters and the Taurus Mountains with the Lunar Rover vehicle, making the Moon their home for over three days.
This last manned mission to the moon established several new records, including: longest manned lunar landing flight (301 hours, 51 minutes); longest lunar surface extravehicular activities (22 hours, 6 minutes); largest lunar sample return (an estimated 249 pounds); and longest time in lunar orbit (147 hours, 48 minutes). While Cernan and Schmitt conducted activities on the lunar surface, Evans circled the Moon aboard the America, completing assigned work tasks requiring geological observations, handheld photography of specific targets, and the control of cameras and other highly sophisticated scientific equipment carried in the command module bay.
Before blasting off for a rendezvous with the America, Cernan and Schmitt left a plaque on the Moon with the following inscription: “Here man completed his first exploration of the Moon, December 1972 A.D. May the spirit of peace in which we came to be reflected in the lives of all mankind.” The Apollo 17 mission ended its journey of more than twelve and a half days with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on December 19, less than half a mile from its target point.
Gene Cernan logged over 566 hours (23.58 days) in space in his three missions. In September 1973, he became the Special Assistant to the Program Manager of the Apollo Program at the Johnson Space Center. In this capacity, he assisted in the planning, development, and evaluation of the joint United States/Soviet Union Apollo-Soyuz mission, and acted for the program manager as the senior United States negotiator in direct discussions with the USSR on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.
On July 1, 1976, Eugene Cernan retired from the U.S. Navy with the rank of captain, ending his duties at NASA as well. He was one of only three men to have flown to the Moon on two occasions (John Young and James Lovell are the others), and as commander of the last mission to the moon, Apollo 17, Cernan had the privilege and distinction of being the last man to have left his footprints on the surface of the moon.
Cernan joined Coral Petroleum, Inc., of Houston, Texas, as Executive Vice President-International. In September 1981, he started his own company, The Cernan Corporation, to pursue management and consultant interests in the energy, aerospace, and other related industries. Additionally, he has been actively involved as a co-anchorman on ABC-TV’s presentations of the flight of the shuttle.
Captain Cernan later became Chairman of the Board of Johnson Engineering Corporation. Johnson Engineering provides the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) with Flight Crew Systems Development with personnel located both on and off-site at Johnson Space Center. Johnson Engineering has supported NASA in the design of crew stations for Space Shuttle, Spacelab, Space Station, Lunar Base, and Mars Outpost. The company is directly involved with the operation of the 1-G trainers in Building 9A and B, as well as the Weightless Environment Training Facility in Building 29.
Cernan has received two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, the JSC Superior Achievement Award, two Navy Distinguished Service Medals, the Navy Astronaut Wings, the Navy Distinguished Flying Cross, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Special Trustees Award (1969), the Federation Aéronautique Internationale Gold Space Medal for 1972, the Cities of Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York Gold Medals, the VFW National Space Medal in 1973, Daughters of The American Revolution Medal of Honor, the Challenger Center’s “Salute to the U.S. Space Program” Honor, Slovak World Recognition Award and the Slovak Presidential Medal of Honor. Asteroid 12790 Cernan is named in his honor.