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Eugene A. Cernan papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSA 288
The Eugene A. Cernan papers (1934-2014) 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 US 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 US’s 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. Donated in multiple accessions over several years, the papers are organized into eleven series, and further information on the scope and content of the collection is given at the series and subseries level.


  • 1934-2014
  • Majority of material found within 1956-2012
  • Other: Date acquired: Bulk, 05/20/2010; additions; 4/13/2014, 1/21/2015, 4/20/2017, 6/14/2017, 7/20/2017


Conditions Governing Access

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

Conditions Governing Use

Purdue University per deed of gift.


58.70 Cubic Feet (13 cubic foot boxes, 23 legal mss boxes, 15 letter mss boxes, 2 half legal mss box, 8 half letter mss boxes, 6 small flat boxes, 17 medium flat boxes, 19 large flat boxes, and 4 oversized boxes)


Personal papers, photographs, audiovisual materials and memorabilia documenting the life and career of astronaut Eugene A. Cernan.

Biographical or Historical 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 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 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 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 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 Cernan passed on January 16, 2017.

Arrangement Note

Series 1.

Youth and Family, 1941-1952, 1992, 1994 (1.4 cubic feet).
This series contains records and artifacts from Eugene Cernan’s youth (prior to admission at Purdue University) as well as his family life. Holdings include awards and memorabilia from Proviso Township High School which detail Cernan’s scholarship awards, scholastic excellence, report cards, membership in the National Honor Society, and participation in commencement for the Class of 1952. Cernan’s athletic accomplishments are also described in the holdings, including his place on the 1952 Junior-Senior All-Star Basketball team, playing as an end on the varsity football team, serving as President of the Proviso Letter Men and as “Toast Master” of their Annual Athletic Banquet in 1951, as well as playing for the 1950 American Legion Junior Baseball championship team for Cook County, Illinois. Of additional note is a family scrapbook detailing Cernan’s academic, athletic, and musical achievements through his eighth grade year. Other included materials and artifacts acknowledge youth sports and accomplishments, such as Cernan’s varsity letters, participation in the Boy Scouts of America, and family celebrations during the 1990s. Materials in the series are arranged chronologically.

Series 2.

Education, 1947-1964 (3.5 cubic feet).
This series contains records pertaining to Eugene Cernan’s activities and associations while attending both Purdue University and the United States Naval Postgraduate School. Holdings describe Cernan’s memberships in the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, the National Society of Scabbard and Blade, the academic Tau Beta Pi Association, the honorary Skull and Crescent society, as a junior editor for Debris, and the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC). An NROTC yearbook (1956), for which Cernan served as editor-in-chief, details his membership and service as President in the Quarterdeck Society, an honorary organization for upperclassmen in NROTC, as chairmen of the Midshipman Ball committee, on the Military Ball committee, and his participation on the NROTC basketball team. Holdings also include Cernan’s numerous employment offer letters leading up to graduation from Purdue University. The bulk of this series, however, is devoted to course materials used by Cernan while attending both Purdue University and the Naval Postgraduate School. These include textbooks in electronics and physics subjects, as well as engineering drafting tools. Several boxes contain coursework and notes, including Purdue but mostly from the Naval Postgraduate School. Topics include drafting drawings completed by Cernan and course notes and work across multiple science and engineering disciplines ranging from basic electronics to advanced aerodynamics. Wherever possible, course titles were ascertained by cross referencing course numbers with Cernan’s transcript from the US Naval Postgraduate School (see note below). In two cases (Boxes 11 and 13), the course materials were originally housed in a binder but have been removed for preservation purposes while maintaining original order. Additional documents related to Cernan’s experiences at Purdue and the US Naval Postgraduate School can be found in Series 4: Writings and Speeches, Subseries 2: The Last Man on the Moon Files, in Folder 1 of Cernan’s Personal Research Files for Book (Box 20). Materials in the series are arranged chronologically.

Series 3.

Professional Career: Navy, NASA, 1960-1993 (7.4 cubic feet).
This series contains records pertaining to Cernan’s professional career in the United States Navy and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as well as contextual materials. Holdings concern Cernan’s participation in both the Gemini and Apollo programs and include interview transcripts, awards and congratulatory correspondence. Of special note are telegrams from President Richard Nixon and then-California Governor Ronald Reagan. Also included is correspondence relating to Cernan’s retirement from the Navy in 1976 as well as public recognition for his achievements as an astronaut, including a celebration of Apollo XVII in Cernan’s hometown of Bellwood, Illinois. Supplementary holdings include vaccination certificates and personal passports. Holdings in this series also include copies of official NASA documents pertaining to the Apollo program, especially Apollo XVII. These include a report on communications systems aboard the Lunar Module, a press kit for Apollo XVII, and the Apollo Program Summary Report. Finally, this series contains two special artifacts which accompanied Cernan aboard Apollo XVII. The first is a glove which comprised part of Cernan’s space suit during his activities on the lunar surface. The second is the “LM Lunar Surface Maps” book which was also utilized during activities on the lunar surface during the Apollo XVII mission. This book contains a complete set of 24 plastic map segments detailing the Taurus-Littrow Valley, the landing site for Apollo XVII. Additional records pertaining to Cernan’s professional career in both the Navy and NASA can be found in Series 4: Writings and Speeches, Subseries 2: The Last Man on the Moon Files, especially in Folder 1 of Cernan’s Personal Research Files for Book (Box 20). Materials in the series are arranged chronologically.

Writings and Speeches, 1934-2012 (8.20 cubic feet).

Series 4.
This series contains two subseries: Articles and Speeches, and The Last Man on the Moon Files. The first subseries, Articles and Speeches, contains published articles written by and interviews with Eugene Cernan in which he reflects on his experiences as an astronaut as well as the Apollo program broadly. Also included is a transcript of speeches by various astronauts, including Cernan, from a 20th anniversary celebration for Apollo held at the NASA/Johnson Space center in July, 1989, as well as drafts of Cernan’s eulogy for Neil Armstrong, delivered at memorial services on September 13, 2012. Materials in the subseries are arranged chronologically. The second subseries, The Last Man on the Moon Files, contains research materials and records pertaining to the production of Eugene Cernan’s autobiography, The Last Man on the Moon, co-written with Don Davis. Included are Cernan’s personal research files, comprised of numerous records from Cernan’s service in the US Navy and as an astronaut. Cernan compiled these materials in the process of researching and writing The Last Man on the Moon and they have been retained in the order received. In particular, these research files contain personal records such as Cernan’s birth certificate, correspondence and documentation of Cernan’s entrance and distinguished service in the US Navy and Manned Spaceflight Program, congratulatory telegrams and letters, newspaper coverage of his participation in the Gemini and Apollo projects, and excerpts from other published works by former astronauts and NASA officials. Combined with these personal records are Cernan’s handwritten notes for writing The Last Man on the Moon (usually written on yellow legal paper). Holdings pertaining to Cernan’s family, post-Apollo activities and discussions, and other astronauts are also present. Within these files are several items of note, including a letter to Cernan notifying him of selection into the Manned Spaceflight Program, correspondence with friends and family regarding astronaut selection, the pre-flight schedule for the crew of Gemini IX, and a letter from Cernan to his mother just prior to Apollo X. Cernan’s personal research files for The Last Man on the Moon contain many records which are thematically related to other series in the collection (particularly Series 3). In addition, this subseries contains records relating to the creation, revision, and publication of The Last Man on the Moon, including literary agent and co-author selection, book proposal drafts, editing and publication correspondence, full manuscript drafts, publication and promotion efforts including book signings, post-publication corrections, and marketing. Of special note is correspondence between Cernan and numerous noteworthy figures including former colleagues at NASA, business leaders, journalists, politicians, and celebrities. This correspondence provides impressions, suggestions, and official remarks from figures specifically selected by Cernan to read advance copies of the manuscript. Materials in the subseries are arranged to preserve original order.

Series 5.

Correspondence, 1963-2009, 2013-2014 (2.70 cubic feet).
This series contains multiple forms of correspondence related to Cernan’s life since his selection to become an astronaut. Subjects include Cernan’s selection for NASA’s Manned Spaceflight Program, congratulatory letters and telegrams related to Cernan’s career as an astronaut, photographs, Cernan’s post-NASA activities, and his autobiography, The Last Man on the Moon. Correspondents regularly include notable NASA officials, politicians, and celebrities and are noted in the finding aid where applicable. Numerous letters, telegrams, and photographs (many autographed) in this series were compiled by Cernan into binders prior to donation, and have been retained in their original order. Also included are numerous letters sent to Cernan discussing his autobiography. Materials in the series are arranged chronologically, except when preserving original order (special correspondence binders).

Series 6.

Newspaper Clippings, circa 1950-2002 (3.05 cubic feet).
This series contains newspapers and newspaper clippings, the majority of which pertain to Cernan’s career as an astronaut. Newspapers range chronologically from the 1950s through the late 1990s. Topics include Cernan’s youth, particularly his participation in sports at Proviso East High School, the Purdue NROTC, Cernan’s career and experiences as an astronaut, Gemini IX, Apollo X and XVII, international coverage, and information of general public interest about the Gemini and Apollo programs. Other topics include commemorative articles on manned spaceflight initiatives (such as Apollo) written in subsequent decades, the space shuttle Challenger tragedy, as well as several articles regarding the inauguration, attempted assassination, and presidency of Ronald Reagan. Several special and keepsake newspapers are included in this collection, and of special note is a bound copy of The New York Times dated March 14, 1934, given to Cernan as a birthday gift. Please also see Series 4, Box 20-25, for additional newspaper clippings. Materials in the series are arranged chronologically.

Series 7.

Photographs, circa 1937-2009 (6.45 cubic feet).
This series contains photographs which relate to Cernan’s life, most of which concern Cernan’s career as an astronaut and post-NASA activities. Personal subjects include Cernan’s as a youth and later with his wife Barbara and daughter Tracy, slides from family vacations to Monterrey, California, and family activities from later in Cernan’s life. Professional subjects include Cernan’s training and service for Gemini and Apollo missions, as well as Cernan’s subsequent NASA and post-NASA public activities which promote and celebrate both space exploration and Cernan’s career. A number of photographs pertain to Purdue University, including a group photograph for Cernan’s fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta, from 1955, as well as multiple astronaut reunions in the 1990s and 2000s. Included in numerous photographs are notable politicians, other astronauts, and celebrities. See Series 5, Box 35, for Special Correspondence Binders containing additional photographs related to Cernan’s personal and professional life. Materials in the series are arranged thematically.

Series 8.

Audiovisual Collection, 1975-2011 (5.90 cubic feet).
This series contains non-photographic audiovisual media including video tapes, cassettes, films, CDs, and DVDs. Many materials are professionally produced for public audiences such as news specials, documentaries, television appearances, public appearances, conferences, public service announcements, charity and promotional events, and commemorations which usually (but not always) feature and/or interview Cernan. Topics generally involve space exploration, fellow astronauts, and the Apollo and Gemini programs. Of special note are audio recordings of Cernan reading his book, The Last Man on the Moon. Materials in the series are arranged chronologically.

Series 9.

Books and Magazines, 1959-2010 (4.50 cubic feet).
This series contains a variety of books and magazines, many of which concern NASA, astronauts, and the Apollo missions from multiple perspectives. Materials include Time and Life magazine, edited volumes of Apollo mission reports for Apollo X through XVI (excluding XIV), and published books on flight and space exploration history. Materials also include miscellaneous books and magazines on topics of general interest including aviation, personal interest subjects, history, autobiographies, and Purdue University. Of particular interest are edited volumes of the Apollo XVII Lunar Surface Journal. Materials in the series are arranged thematically.

Series 10.

Artifacts, 1948-2012 (15.35 cubic feet).
This series contains artifacts divided into categories: artwork, awards and plaques, commemorative coins and stamps, commemorative memorabilia, and certificates and honorary degrees. Materials pertain to NASA and the Gemini and Apollo programs, either in a contemporary or commemorative sense, as well as numerous awards Cernan received in recognition of his NASA career and post-NASA accomplishments. Also included are multiple doctorates awarded to Cernan by various institutions including Purdue University. Items include celebratory government resolutions, commemorative and celebratory artwork, science and aviation awards, coin sets commemorating multiple manned spaceflight programs, mission patches, doctoral certificates and an academic hood, and a replica Wright brothers flying machine design. Materials reflect both Cernan’s professional and post-NASA public life. Materials in the series are arranged thematically.

Series 11.

Restricted Materials, 1952-2001 (0.25 cubic feet).
These materials are not open to researchers at this time due to donor restrictions. Materials in the series are arranged according to their original location within the collection.

Source of Acquisition

Donated by Eugene A. Cernan in multiple accessions over the period 1972-2014. The largest being on May 20, 2010. Upon Cernan’s passing in 2017, his daughter, Tracy Cernan Woolie donated additional material.

Related Materials

MSA 5, Neil A. Armstrong papers, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections Research Center, Purdue University Libraries

Processing Information

Whenever possible, original order of the materials has been retained. All materials have been housed in polyester sleeves (as necessary), acid-free folders and acid-free boxes. All newsprint has been photocopied. 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
2014; Revised 2017
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
eng and french
Edition statement
2nd Edition, additions added in 2017 and finding aid was updated.

Repository Details

Part of the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections Repository

504 W. State Street
West Lafayette Indiana 47907 United States