Captain Eugene Andrew Cernan died Monday, surrounded by his family in Houston, Texas. He was 82 years old. For more than half his life, he was known as the Last Man on the Moon, but he was also a devoted father and husband, a naval aviator and advocate, and a great friend to many. He remains a hero for the ages.
Although Gene was the last astronaut on the Moon, he was perhaps first among lunar ambassadors. He was eloquent and charismatic, and he used his gifts to make the people he met feel like they’d been there with him in the dust of Taurus-Littrow. His particular place in history is a strange one. The Last Man on the Moon, but for how long? As he took the last steps of the Apollo program, he knew the human race was moving “back home for some time to come—but we believe not too long into the future.” History still records that his are the last footprints on another world. Gene did his level best to change that, every day for the rest of his life.
Gene was also a great friend to this Museum, serving on our board and appearing at programs and events. He found common cause with our mission to commemorate the past and inspire the future. Exploration is a human heritage, not for one nation, but for all people, everywhere. On his last walk across the Moon, he remarked, “[…] the promise of the future lies in the young people, not just in America, but the young people all over the world learning to live and learning to work together.” Gene didn’t live to see his title as Last Man on the Moon fall. But our shared mission lives on, and his legacy will help put the next set of footprints on the Moon and beyond.