Gene Cernan, the last human being to walk on the moon, passed away today in a Houston hospital, surrounded by friends and family.
…As I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come – but we believe not too long into the future – I’d like to just (say) what I believe history will record: that 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.
Despite never seeming to smile for photographs, Captain Cernan was a noted humourist–even being invited to roast legendary comedian Don Rickles. Additionally, he was a bit of a speed demon: He rode aboard fastest manned vehicle ever recorded (22,791mph) during Apollo 10’s return from the moon and he holds the land-speed record for any extraterrestrial time trial, racing the lunar rover up to a screaming 11.2mph!
After NASA, Cernan became a contributor to ABC news, published a memoir about his US Navy and NASA career, appeared in several documentaries about space exploration, and even testified before Congress with fellow Apollo alum Neil Armstrong in opposition to the Obama administration’s cancellation of the Constellation program.
There is also the story about how he wrote his daughter’s name in the lunar sand before boarding the LM for the return to earth, making him the first graffitist to tag a celestial body.
The string of celebrity deaths continues with the passing of one of America’s earliest space heroes, John Glenn. Colonel Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth, less than a year after Yuri Gagarin became the first human to reach “outer space”.
A decorated Marine Corps pilot that served in both WWII and the Korean Conflict, Glenn became a Navy test pilot and nearly lost his life during a decompression accident flying the FJ-3 Fury. Undeterred, he got back in the cockpit and in 1957 completed the first recorded supersonic transcontinental flight, flying an F8U Crusader from Los Alamitos AAF (just down the street from me) to New York City in under 3.5 hours.
Realizing that he would likely not be chosen for a lunar landing, Glenn resigned from NASA in 1964 and immediately ran for senator of Ohio. As a senatorial candidate, he gave one of the most rousing political speeches ever delivered by a modern candidate–denouncing his opponent’s assertions that he “never worked” because he was in the military.
John Glenn was such a badass, that when he was 77 years old, he became the oldest astronaut he volunteered to go back into space on the shuttle Discovery as a human guinea pig so NASA could study the effects of space travel on elderly humans.