Eugene Cernan

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Eugene A. Cernan
Eugene A. Cernan
Country: United States
Organization: NASA
selected on October 17, 1963
(3rd NASA Group)
Calls: 3 space flights
Start of the
first space flight:
3rd June 1966
Landing of the
last space flight:
December 19, 1972
Time in space: 23d 14h 15min
EVA inserts: 4th
EVA total duration: 24h 11min
retired on July 1976
Space flights

Eugene Andrew "Gene" Cernan (born March 14, 1934 in Chicago , Illinois , † January 16, 2017 in Houston , Texas ) was an American astronaut . He was the eleventh of twelve people looking at the moon entered, and is still the last person has been on the moon.


Start of career

Cernan comes from Czech immigrants on his mother 's side and Slovak immigrants on his father's side, but his parents were both born in the USA. He attended McKinley School in Bellwood and Proviso High School in Maywood , which he left in June 1952 as one of the best of the year. From an early age he wanted to become a naval aviator ; therefore he applied for a marine scholarship at Purdue University , but only got a partial scholarship, which nevertheless obliged him to serve in the US Navy .

In the summer of 1955 he served for the first time on a ship, the USS Roanoke , in June of the following year he graduated from Purdue with an average of 5.1 out of a possible 6 in electrical engineering. From June to October 1956 he served on the USS Saipan . During this time he moved up from the reserve to the regular Navy.

In 1957 he was trained as a fighter pilot, from February 1958 he served on the Miramar Naval Air Station in California . His first trip to the Pacific took place from March to October 1959 on the aircraft carrier Shangri-La . Another trip took place from June 1960 to March 1961 on the Hancock . On May 6, 1961, he married Barbara Atchley, a stewardess for Continental Airlines , their daughter Tracy was born on March 4, 1963.

In the meantime, Cernan had accepted an offer from the Navy and extended his commitment period. In return, he was able to study at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey , California, where he received a Master of Science degree in aeronautical engineering in 1963 .

The way to NASA

Cernan applied to NASA as an astronaut in the summer of 1963 , and although he had less flying experience than other applicants and was not a test pilot , he was introduced to NASA's third group of astronauts along with 13 others on October 17, 1963.

Training began in February 1964. Cernan specialized in rockets, both the Titan rocket , which was supposed to put the Gemini spacecraft into orbit, and the Agena stage, which was planned to be paired with in orbit.

The Gemini project

Cernan on the Gemini 9 mission

During the first Gemini missions ( Gemini 1 in April 1964 to Gemini 5 in August 1965), Cernan worked in the control center, where he was responsible for monitoring the fuel tanks during take-off.

The Gemini project provided for ten manned flights, so twenty seats had to be allocated. Of the seven Mercury astronauts , five were still active; some of them were already established as commanders of Gemini flights. There were also nine astronauts from the second selection group, some of which were scheduled for two flights. Thus, only a few astronauts in the third group could hope for a place in a Gemini spaceship.

On November 8, 1965, Cernan was then nominated as a replacement pilot for the Gemini 9 mission . This gave him a good chance of being assigned to the Gemini 12 for the last flight .

During the twin missions of Gemini 7 and Gemini 6 in December 1965, Cernan was the liaison officer ( Capcom ).

The main crew of Gemini 9 consisted of the commander Elliot Lake and the pilot Charles Bassett , one spacewalk (EVA: extra-vehicular activity, spacewalk ) should do. The replacement in command was Tom Stafford .

As part of their training program flew the main and the reserve crew of Gemini 9 on February 28, 1966 in two two-seat jets to St. Louis , where they should train at the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation on the Gemini simulator. Due to poor visibility, the machine from See and Bassett crashed, both of which were killed. On the same day, Stafford and Cernan were confirmed as the new main team, so Cernan now had the task of undertaking the second American space exit (EVA) after Edward White with Gemini 4 .

The launch of Gemini 9 was initially scheduled for May 17, 1966, but was canceled at short notice after Stafford and Cernan were already in the spaceship . The launch of the target satellite, which took place shortly before, had failed, so that no coupling partner was available.

With the simpler target satellite ATDA, the launch should be repeated on June 1st. ATDA could be brought into orbit this time without any problems , but shortly before the ignition of Gemini 9, the start had to be aborted because the required data could not be sent from the ground station to the spaceship.

On June 3, the third attempt at take-off finally worked, and Cernan began his first space flight. This made him the second astronaut of the third selection group to be deployed.

In Earth orbit , however, it turned out that the target satellite's casing had only partially loosened, making the planned coupling impossible. NASA was considering getting Cernan out of the spacecraft and removing the fairing by hand, but that was considered too dangerous. The only EVA so far had only consisted of getting out and back in and one had no experience of movement and work in weightlessness .

The planned EVA was still ambitious enough. Cernan was supposed to leave the Gemini spaceship through the hatch on June 5, 1966, shimmy back along the spaceship and strap on a maneuvering unit (AMU) developed by the US Air Force . However, that was considerably more difficult than previously assumed. There were too few breakpoints, so that Cernan was moving much slower than planned. When he finally reached the stern of the spaceship, he was way behind the times and at the end of his strength. Thus the test of the maneuvering unit had to be canceled. The way back to the hatch turned out to be even more difficult and dangerous. The cooling of the space suit could not compensate for the heat radiation of the body, and Cernan's visor fogged up so that he could no longer see and orientation was almost impossible due to the lack of gravity. With the last of his strength, Cernan was able to hang back into the spaceship. After all, he had set a new endurance record for space exits of over two hours.

Shortly after the end of the flight, Cernan was nominated on June 17, 1966 as reserve pilot for the next available flight with Gemini 12 , which should also be the end of the Gemini program. Other problems occurred with the Gemini 10 and Gemini 11 space exits, and another test of the maneuvering unit was scheduled for Gemini 12. Cernan was replacing Buzz Aldrin and, according to Cernan, NASA was considering replacing Aldrin with Cernan if Aldrin did not seem up to the task. However, when the maneuvering unit test was removed from the program, there was no doubt that Aldrin could take over the flight and Cernan was not used on the November 1966 flight. After that, Cernan was assigned to the Apollo project.

Preparation for the first moon landing

Cernan with John Young and Tom Stafford

In the Apollo project, Cernan was assigned as a reserve pilot for Mission D , the second manned flight. With that he could hope for the fifth manned Apollo flight, probably the first in which a moon landing could be attempted. Cernan was among the most experienced crew NASA had ever put together. His commanding officer was again Tom Stafford, and the third man was assigned to John Young , who like Stafford had already made two space flights.

Cernan was in North American Rockwell's Apollo simulator in Downey when he received news of the Apollo 1 disaster . With the death of the crew that was scheduled for the first manned flight, all planning was stopped. In April 1967 the team assignments were announced again. Cernan was now the reserve pilot for the Apollo spacecraft's first manned flight , Apollo 7 . Cernan was not used, but served as the liaison speaker ( Capcom ).

As in the Gemini project, three teams were always training at the same time. As expected, shortly after the Apollo 7 landing on October 11, 1968, the Apollo 7 replacement crew for the next available Apollo 10 flight was announced. It was the dress rehearsal for the moon landing. For the first time, the lunar module was to be tested in lunar orbit. A landing was not planned and technically not possible, because the Apollo 10 lander was even heavier than the Apollo 11.

On May 18, 1969, Cernan took off on his second space flight with Tom Stafford and John Young . After Apollo 8, it was only the second flight to the moon. On the fourth day of flight, the Apollo spacecraft entered a lunar orbit. Cernan and Stafford transferred to the Snoopy lunar module and disconnected from the mother ship Charlie Brown . This part of the flight broke down because Stafford and Cernan were zealously flicking a switch twice. This caused the lunar module to roll heavily. However, Stafford was able to prevent worse by switching to manual control. On its return flight to earth, the landing capsule reached a record speed of 39,897 km / h. Cernan, Stafford and Young thus hold the record for having moved the fastest relative to the earth.

Upon return, Cernan was charged with publicly using indecent expressions. When the lunar module began to lurch uncontrollably, Stafford and Cernan had in mortal danger not paid attention to the use of adult language. While Stafford's remarks were incomprehensible, Cernan's exclamation, “Son of a bitch! What the hell happened? ”Easy to understand live to earth. The head of an American Bible school then complained to NASA and President Nixon, whereupon Cernan had to publicly apologize for his expressions.

Apollo 14

Eugene Cernan, Apollo 17 mission, December 11, 1972; one of the three moon car of NASA , an electric car

After Apollo 10 was completed, Cernan received an offer from Deke Slayton , who was responsible for the Apollo crew division, to become a replacement pilot for the Apollo 13 lunar module . With that he would have had a good chance of landing on the moon with Apollo 16 . However, to Slayton's amazement, Cernan turned down the offer. He would rather wait for his own command.

He actually got this chance because Michael Collins wanted to leave the astronaut group and turned down an offer as replacement commander of Apollo 14 . Cernan received this post on August 6, 1969 shortly after Apollo 11 successfully landed on the moon . So he was a substitute for Alan Shepard , the first American in space . Cernan's crew also included Ronald Ellwin Evans as pilot of the Apollo command module and Joe Engle as pilot of the lander.

On January 23, 1971, a week before Apollo 14 launched, Cernan was on a training flight in a Bell H-13 helicopter . When he was flying low over the Indian River near Cape Kennedy , he misjudged his height and brushed the surface of the water with a skid. The helicopter instantly overturned and leaking fuel set the river on fire. Cernan managed to free himself from the sinking helicopter and get out of range of the flames until a woman pulled him into her boat. He was only slightly injured in this incident and remained on the substitute team. Nevertheless, there was no denying that he was responsible for the accident himself.

The last man on the moon - Apollo 17

Cernan after a moon EVA in the LEM with a space suit covered with moon dust

At this point the flights Apollo 18 and Apollo 19 had already been canceled, so it was clear that Apollo 17 would be the last flight to the moon for a long time. It was less clear which crew should fly this mission: the replacement crew of Apollo 14 under Eugene Cernan or the replacement crew of Apollo 15 under Richard Gordon with the first science astronaut , Jack Schmitt . On August 13, 1971, shortly after the flight of Apollo 15, NASA finally announced that Cernan, Evans and Schmitt would form the crew of the last flight to the moon, the replacement crew was the crew of Apollo 16 as it would not have been worth it for to train a completely new team for the last moon flight.

The start of Apollo 17 took place on December 7, 1972. It was the first manned night launch of American space travel. Cernan and Schmitt landed with the Challenger lunar module near the Littrow crater in Mare Serenitatis . Cernan was the eleventh person to walk on the moon. The mission was scientifically and technically highly successful, the longest EVA time was spent on the moon, the greatest amount of lunar rock was collected and the greatest distance was covered in the moon car (35 km). Cernan set an unofficial lunar land speed record of 18 km / h .

On December 14, 1972 at 05:40 UTC, Cernan was the last person to leave the lunar surface, which has not been re-entered by humans to this day. 

According to NASA

After retiring from NASA on July 1, 1976, Cernan became vice president of Carol Petroleum in Houston , Texas . In 1981 he founded his own consultancy for space travel and the airline Air 1 , of which he was chairman until June 1983.

Cernan's marriage had suffered greatly through his astronaut career. In 1980 he separated from his wife Barbara, the divorce was declared in 1981. In 1987 he married Jan Nanna, whom he met in 1984. Through this marriage he had two stepdaughters, Kelly and Danielle.

In 1999, Cernan co-published The Last Man on the Moon with Don Davis .

In the documentary In the Shadow of the Moon (2007, German title Im Schatten des Mondes ) he reports on the events and his feelings during the moon landing.

Special features and records

  • Highest speed that a person has reached (39,897 km / h with Apollo 10 )
  • Eleventh and so far penultimate person who has ever set foot on the moon; last person to leave him ( Apollo 17 )
  • The only person who was traveling with two different lunar shuttles ( Apollo 10 and Apollo 17 )
  • Largest amount of rock that humans have collected on the moon during a manned mission ( Apollo 17 )
  • Longest total EVA time on the moon ( Apollo 17 )
  • Longest distance traveled on the moon in a moon car ( Apollo 17 )
  • First manned night launch by NASA ( Apollo 17 )
  • Cernan left his daughter's initials "TDC" in the dust on the moon; a rock he examined there was also named "Tracy's Rock"


In 2000, Eugene Cernan was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame .

The company Orbital Sciences Corporation called the unmanned Cygnus -Raumfrachter OA-8 "Gene Cernan". The watch manufacturer Omega dedicated the Omega Speedmaster Apollo 17 45th Anniversary model to Gene Cernan in 2017. The watch is limited to 1972 pieces.


  • Eugene Cernan and Don Davis: The Last Man on the Moon. St. Martin's Press, New York 1999, ISBN 0-312-19906-6 .

See also

Individual evidence

  1. -: Gene Cernan, last astronaut to walk on moon, dies at 82nd India.TV online, January 17, 2017, accessed January 17, 2017 .
  2. ^ Cernan's page at
  3. Omega Speedmaster Apollo 17 45th Anniversary at Omega, accessed September 5, 2018


Web links

Commons : Eugene Cernan  - collection of images, videos and audio files