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Eugene A. Cernan papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSA 288

Scope and Contents

The Eugene A. Cernan papers document the military, aeronautics, and astronautics career of Eugene A. Cernan, as well as his subsequent professional and public activities. The papers also feature records pertaining to Cernan's youth, family, and education. The collection includes but is not limited to artifacts, audiovisual recordings, awards, books, certificates, coins, correspondence, documents, mission patches, newspaper clippings, photographs, plaques, publications, scrapbooks, speeches, textbooks, and writings.

Notable topics in this collection concern Cernan's youth and naval career, public observance of his three missions into space, the writing of his autobiography, his relationships with celebrities, public appearances, and his numerous public awards and recognitions. The collection contains a sizeable record of Cernan's youth, sports, and educational activities, particularly his coursework while attending the United States Naval Postgraduate School (see Series 1 and 2). The collection also contains ample documentation of the publicity and fame surrounding Cernan's missions into space, including congratulatory correspondence from numerous politicians and celebrities and extensive newspaper coverage of both the details of Cernan's mission and the astronauts involved (see Series 3, 4, 5, and 6). Technical details and specifics of Cernan's Gemini and Apollo missions themselves are less represented here, though some Gemini transcripts and Apollo mission reports are included (see Series 3 and 9). Especially well represented in this collection are Cernan's public activities. Written articles and audiovisual records of Cernan showcase his public representation of his experiences and the United States' spaceflight initiatives as a whole (see Series 4 and Series 8). Written correspondence and photographs document Cernan's extensive relationships with political officials, business leaders, and celebrities (see Series 4, 5, and 7). The collection also contains extensive record of the researching, writing, and publication of Cernan's autobiography, The Last Man on the Moon, including whole drafts and feedback from notable figures and celebrities as well as numerous fan letters (see Series 4 and 5). Finally, this collection contains numerous artifacts, awards, and honorary degrees given to Cernan throughout his career. These artifacts include commemorative coins and patches from Cernan's missions into space, as well as a glove worn by Cernan and a map book of the lunar surface, both used during Apollo XVII.


  • 1934 - 2016
  • Majority of material found within 1956 - 2012


Language of Materials

Collection material is primarily in English. French is also present.

Access Information

The collection is open for research. Portions of the collection which contain confidential information are restricted.

Copyright and Use Information

Portions of material in this collection are in the public domain. Other material copyrights held by Purdue University or other entities. Consult with Purdue University Archives and Special Collections prior to reproduction of materials.

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 the Debris,Purdue University's yearbook, and as editor-in-chief for As You Were, the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps (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 United States 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 fourteen 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 IX 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 IX 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 XII in 1966 and as backup lunar module pilot for Apollo VII in 1968. On his second space flight he served as lunar module pilot of Apollo X in 1969, piloting the lunar module to within 8 nautical miles of the surface of the moon. Apollo X, often referred to as a "dress rehearsal for the moon landing," served as the final testing of operations and equipment in preparation for Apollo XI. Cernan later served as backup spacecraft commander for Apollo XIV and then as spacecraft commander of Apollo XVII, the last manned mission to the moon, which launched in December 1972. The Apollo XVII 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 twenty-two hours, brought back the largest lunar sample load, and spent the longest time in lunar orbit at one hundred forty-seven hours. Eugene Cernan spent five hundred sixty-six hours in space and seventy-three hours on the lunar surface in total. As the last human to walk on the lunar surface to date, 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 XVII, 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 United States Navy and from NASA in July 1976. Following his retirement he pursued a business and consulting career that included roles in Coral Petroleum, Incorporated, 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.


54.253 Cubic Feet (34 flat boxes, 18 letter-size full-width manuscript boxes, 20 legal-size full-width manuscript boxes, 14 cubic foot boxes, eight letter-size half-width manuscript boxes, three legal-size half-width manuscript boxes, one shoe box, and one flat folder)


The papers are arranged into 10 series.
  1. Youth and Family
  2. Education
  3. Professional Career
  4. Writings and Speeches
  5. Correspondence
  6. Newspaper Clippings
  7. Photographs
  8. Audiovisual Collection
  9. Magazines and Books
  10. Artifacts

Technical Access Information

Audio visual material, such as the VHS tapes, audio cassettes, and films must be migrated to a digital format before use. Contact Purdue University Archives and Special Collections if interested in using this material.

Acquisition Information

The papers were donated by Eugene A. Cernan over the period from 1972-2014, with the largest being donation on May 20, 2010. Upon Cernan's passing in 2017, his daughter, Tracy Cernan Woolie donated additional material.

Processing Information

Whenever possible, original order of the materials has been retained. All materials have been housed in acid-free folders and acid-free boxes, and polyester sleeves, as necessary. All newsprint has been photocopied, and most original clippings have been retained. Oversized newspapers, photographs, books and magazines, and artifacts have been separated and grouped into individual boxes for preservation purposes.



Eugene A. Cernan papers
Brian Alberts and Mary A. Sego
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Edition statement
Third edition. Collection description first completed 2015-08-10.

Repository Details

Part of the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections Repository

504 Mitch Daniels Boulevard
West Lafayette Indiana 47907 United States