The National Aviation Hall of Fame reflects on the passing of Eugene A. “Gene” Cernan, 2000 Enshrinee
(DAYTON, Ohio – January 17, 2017) It is with much sadness and admiration that the National Aviation Hall of Fame reflects on the passing of 2000 Enshrinee, Capt. Eugene A. “Gene” Cernan, USN, age 82. Capt Cernan died on January 16th in Houston, Texas, after a lengthy illness. We find comfort in learning from NASA that he was surrounded by family, and offer our sincere condolences to his wife, Jan Nanna Cernan, former wife, Barbara Jean Atchley, daughter Tracy Cernan Woolie, and the extended Cernan Family.
Like his fellow moonwalking astronaut and NAHF Enshrinee, Neil Armstrong, Capt. Cernan was an engineering graduate of Purdue University and Naval Aviator. Unlike most of his astronaut peers, Capt. Cernan was recruited by NASA in 1963 not from the test pilot community, but from his service as a carrier-based attack pilot, a distinction he carried with much pride. He made three record-setting flights into space – Gemini 9 with Thomas Stafford in 1966, Apollo 10 (to the moon’s surface but not landing) with Stafford and John W. Young in 1969, and Apollo 17 in 1972 with Ron Evans and Harrison Schmitt, the mission on which he became the last man to walk on the moon. Capt. Cernan’s 566 hours spent in space included 73 on the lunar surface.
Capt. Cernan was enshrined with the Class of 2000, and immediately became a valued supporter of the NAHF. He was often heard to exclaim that of all the many accolades he had received in his career, the two he held most dear were his election into the Naval Aviation Hall of Honor and his induction into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
Capt. Cernan returned to Dayton to participate in the NAHF 2003 Pioneers of Flight Homecoming, and the 2009 Apollo Crew Reunion, at which the group received the Milton Caniff Spirit of Flight Award. On October 1, 2016, Capt. Cernan was honored with the NAHF’s Neil Armstrong Outstanding Achievement Award but, due to health issues, was unable to attend the Dayton ceremony. 2015 Enshrinee Eugene Kranz accepted on his behalf.
Additionally, Capt. Cernan often served as an Enshrinee representative at the annual National Aviation Heritage Invitational, held at the Reno Air Races, where with fellow enshrinees he enjoyed co-presenting winners of the juried competitions for best restored vintage aircraft with their trophies. He also joined fellow Enshrinees for the presentation of the annual Combs Gates Award at the NBAA convention.
Ever the advocate for education and inspiring youngsters to higher achievement, in 2005 he was among several Enshrinees who participated at various stops in the nationwide tour of the NAHF’s SkyReach Education Program, carried on a specially modified Douglas DC-3 named “Duggy.” The inscription he penned in the copy of his book in the NAHF archives reads, “Always shoot for the moon and you will and somewhere among the stars.” Capt. Cernan is certainly among those stars, along with his fellow air and space pioneers that have gone before him.
The NAHF recommends two excellent sources of information about Capt. Cernan and his air and space achievements: His 1999 autobiography, The Last Man on the Moon, co-written with Don Davis and published by St. Martin’s Press, and the acclaimed 2016 documentary of the same name by Mark Stewart Productions.
Though he ably carried the mantle of “the last man on the moon,” he was a passionate advocate, all the way to the halls of Congress, for the renewal of America’s manned space exploration program. Frequently referencing himself as the most recent to have walked the lunar surface, he also reveled in encouraging youngsters to consider the potential that they might be the next to walk on the moon, or perhaps Mars. Capt. Cernan was often heard to challenge an audience to “Dream the impossible and go out and make it happen. I walked on the moon. Why can’t you?”