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Cernan, Eugene



  • Existence: March 14, 1934 - January 16, 2017

Biographical Information

Eugene Andrew "Gene" Cernan was born in Chicago, Illinois, on March 14, 1934 to Rose and Andrew Cernan. He graduated in 1952 from Proviso Township High School in Maywood, Illinois, where he was recognized for scholastic excellence, played varsity football and basketball, and also served as president of the Proviso Major Letter Men. Cernan then attended college at Purdue University beginning fall of 1952, where he enrolled in the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps and became a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. In addition to attaining membership in several academic societies, Cernan served as a junior editor for Debris, Purdue University's yearbook, and as editor-in-chief for As You Were, the NROTC yearbook, in his senior year. In 1956, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Purdue University and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. Upon graduation, he served aboard the USS Saipan.

In October 1956, he entered flight training and was assigned to Attack Squadrons 26 and 112 at the Naval Air Station in Miramar, California. He later attended the United States Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, where he completed coursework in subjects ranging from basic electronics to advanced aerodynamics. In 1963 Cernan received a Master of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering.

In October of 1963, he was one of 14 astronauts selected by NASA to participate in projects Gemini and Apollo. During his first space flight in 1966, he served as pilot under Commander Tom Stafford for the Gemini 9 mission. Through this mission, he became the second American to walk in space, spending a total of two hours and ten minutes outside of the spacecraft. Cernan's difficult experience during his Gemini 9 spacewalk resulted in a number of technological innovations regarding hand/footholds on spacecraft as well as spacesuit cooling systems. Cernan then served as backup pilot for Gemini 12 in 1966 and as backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 7 in 1968. On his second space flight he served as lunar module pilot of Apollo 10 in 1969, piloting the lunar module to within 8 nautical miles of the surface of the moon. Apollo 10, often referred to as a "dress rehearsal for the moon landing," served as the final testing of operations and equipment in preparation for Apollo 11. Cernan later served as backup spacecraft commander for Apollo 14 and then as spacecraft commander of Apollo 17, the last manned mission to the moon, which launched in December 1972. The Apollo 17 crew set several records for spaceflight during its mission – it logged the longest manned lunar landing at 301 hours, the longest lunar surface extravehicular activities at 22 hours, brought back the largest lunar sample load, and spent the longest time in lunar orbit at 147 hours. Eugene Cernan spent 566 hours in space and 73 hours on the lunar surface in total. As the last human of the 20th century to walk on the lunar surface, Cernan remarked before entering the module, "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."

Following Apollo 17, Cernan became Special Assistant to the Program Manager of the Apollo spacecraft program at Johnson Space Center. In this capacity he worked on the joint United States-Soviet Union Apollo-Soyuz mission planning and development and as the senior United States negotiator for discussions with the USSR on the Apollo Soyuz Test Project. He retired for the U.S. Navy and from NASA in July 1976. Following his retirement he pursued a business and consulting career that included roles in Coral Petroleum, Inc., Johnson Engineering Corporation, and forming his own company, The Cernan Corporation. He has made numerous appearances on television and in films in relation to his experience as an Apollo astronaut. In 1999, with Don Davis, he co-authored his autobiography, The Last Man on the Moon: Astronaut Eugene Cernan and America’s Race in Space.

Throughout his professional career, Cernan developed a high number of close relationships with notable political leaders, fellow astronauts and cosmonauts, business leaders, and celebrities. Cernan took part in a number of publicity and diplomatic initiatives, particularly with former Vice President Spiro Agnew, as well as charity work alongside such notable figures as Bob Hope and Jimmy Demaret. Later, Cernan received feedback from many of these friends and acquaintances while writing his autobiography. Cernan’s professional career has also earned him a number of aviation awards and recognitions, including honorary doctorates from Purdue and other universities.

Eugene A. Cernan died on January 16, 2017 in Houston, Texas, at the age of 82.


Astronaut Bio: Eugene A. Cernan. Accessed July 13, 2009.


MSA 288, Eugene A. Cernan papers, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Barbara Marie Stephens Sullivan Cape Canaveral and Eau Gallie, Florida photographs and memorabilia

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSP 202
Scope and Contents The Barbara Marie Stephens Sullivan Cape Canaveral and Eau Gallie, Florida photographs and memorabilia document activities at Cape Canaveral in the late 1950s through early 1960s. Included are selected community and aerospace materials related to the United States Space Program activities at the Cape during the mid-1960s through the 1980s and photographs of Eau Gallie, Florida from this time period.Of note are brochures and commemorative publications of the John F. Kennedy Space...
Dates: 1950 - 1986; Majority of material found within 1965 - 1969