Gene Cernan has left this world yet again, but sadly, this time it's for the long haul. The astronaut famous for being the last person to set foot on the moon has died at the age of 82.
Eugene "Gene" Cernan was confirmed dead by NPR on Monday afternoon, reporting that he died surrounded by his family. Throughout his life, Cernan was always looking to the sky. He enlisted in the Navy in the late 1950s, and served as a fighter pilot aviator in the military branch throughout his 20s. It was there that he attracted the eye of NASA, who enlisted him as an astronaut during the Space Race years.
It was actually a bit of gruesome chance that launched Gene Cernan into space in the first place. He was selected as a backup pilot for NASA's Gemini 9 launch in 1966, and the main crew wound up dying in a crash during the testing process, so Cernan took the wheel. That Gemini flight actually had a lot of technical factors go wrong, including a crucial piece of machinery exploding on launch, but Cernan managed to survive the flight.
It was the famous Apollo program where Gene Cernan earned his largest claims to fame. Cernan became one of only twelve people to ever set foot on the moon, and one of just three humans to travel to the moon twice. Cernan's first Apollo mission was on board Apollo 10, which never actually landed on the moon. Three years later, Cernan was offered the opportunity to set foot on the moon himself as a part of Apollo 16, but since the mission would not be with the crew that he wanted, he turned it down.
Less than a year after turning down his spot on Apollo 16, Gene Cernan was chosen to lead the crew on Apollo 17, which became the final lunar landing ever. It was during this mission that Cernan was finally able to land on the moon, and gained the distinction of being the last man to ever set foot on the moon when he re-boarded Apollo 17 to return to Earth in December, 1972.
A couple of years after returning home, Gene Cernan retired from both the Navy and NASA at age 42. He published his memoir The Last Man on the Moon in 1999, detailing the behind-the-scenes events that went on during his career with NASA. The memoir served as the basis for the 2016 documentary of the same name, in which Cernan appears to recount his life. You can learn a lot more about Cernan and his life by watching The Last Man on the Moon, which is streaming on Netflix.