Gene Cernan, last man on the moon, dies at 82

- The last man to set foot on the moon has died. NASA announced Monday that Gene Cernan, the Apollo 17 mission commander, passed away at the age of 82.

The Chicago native was selected as an astronaut back in 1963.  His first space flight was in 1966 as the pilot of Gemini 9.  He later flew to the moon twice -- first, remaining in lunar orbit during the dry run for the Apollo 11 landing, then later walking on the moon in December 1972.

The Apollo 17 mission was NASA's last to land on the moon after then-President Richard Nixon canceled Apollo 18, 19, and 20. Cernan spent more than three days exploring the lunar surface with geologist-astronaut Jack Schmitt. 

The last footprints on the moon belong to Cernan. His words as he climbed onto the lunar module ladder for the last time are not remembered as well as Neil Armstrong's first words, but they were no less hopeful:

"We leave as we came, and, God willing, we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind."

On their way to the moon, the Apollo 17 crew took one of the most iconic photographs in space-program history, the full view of the Earth dubbed "The Blue Marble."

Before becoming an astronaut, Cernan was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy. He retired from both NASA and the Navy in 1976.

LINK: More from NASA

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