Gene Cernan photographed in the Apollo Lunar Module on the lunar surface. Photo: Wikipedia

Former astronaut Gene Cernan has died at the age of 82. He holds the distinction of being the most recent man to walk on the Moon and his legacy as one of humanity’s greatest explorers will live on.

Cernan reportedly passed away at a hospital in Houston, Texas, after ongoing health issues.

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NASA tweeted its condolences this afternoon with a message that reads, “We are saddened by the loss of retired NASA astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon.”

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden also shared a note about Cernan’s contributions:

As a crew member of both the Apollo 10 and 17 missions, he was one of two men to have flown twice to the moon. He commanded Apollo 17 and set records that still stand for longest manned lunar landing flight, longest lunar surface extravehicular activities, largest lunar sample return, and longest time in lunar orbit.

Gene’s footprints remain on the moon, and his achievements are imprinted in our hearts and memories. His drive to explore and do great things for his country is summed up in his own words:

We truly are in an age of challenge. With that challenge comes opportunity. The sky is no longer the limit. The word impossible no longer belongs in our vocabulary. We have proved that we can do whatever we have the resolve to do. The limit to our reach is our own complacency.’

Cernan came to NASA from the Navy in October of 1963. As a pilot, he logged over 5,000 hours of flight time and landed on aircraft carriers 200 times. He was selected in the third group of NASA astronauts and was serving as a backup pilot for Gemini 9 when the prime crew died in the crash of NASA T-38A “901" on February 28, 1966. After a rocky but successful mission on Gemini 9, he subsequently flew on Apollo 10 and Apollo 17. The unprecedented nature of his career means that he holds numerous records and firsts including the highest speed attained by any manned vehicle (24,791 mph) and the unofficial lunar land speed record (18.0 km/h).

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After his career at NASA, Cernan continued to be a public figure, author, television personality and advocate for the sciences.

Though he may be the most recent, hopefully he won’t be the final man to step foot on the Moon. Both Russia and China have plans to send their first manned missions to the lunar surface.

Man’s last words spoken from the Moon were spoken by Cernan:

Bob, this is Gene, and I’m on the surface; and, 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.