Gene Cernan was born on March 14, 1934, in Chicago, Illinois. He was commissioned an Ensign through the Navy ROTC program at Purdue University on June 25, 1956, and then completed flight training, earning his designation as a Naval Aviator on November 22, 1957. LtJg Cernan then served as an F9F-8 Cougar pilot with VA-126 and an AD4 Skyhawk pilot with VA-113 at NAS Miramar, California, from July 1957 to 1961. He completed his master's degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, California in 1963. LCDR Cernan was selected as a NASA Astronaut in October 1963, and flew into space for the first time as pilot of Gemini IX from June 3-6, 1966. He served as backup pilot for Gemini 12, and backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 7 before serving as lunar module pilot on Apollo 10 from May 18-26, 1969. Capt Cernan next served as backup spacecraft commander for Apollo 14, followed by service as spacecraft commander of Apollo 17, the last scheduled manned mission to the moon, which lasted from December 6-19, 1972. During this mission, he became the last human to leave his footprints on the moon. Capt Cernan served as Special Assistant to the Program Manager of the Apollo Program from September 1973 until his retirement from the Navy and NASA on July 1, 1976. Gene Cernan died on January 16, 2017.
His 2nd Navy Distinguished Service Medal Citation reads:
For exceptionally meritorious service to the Government of the United States in a duty of great responsibility as the Spacecraft Commander for the APOLLO 17 flight to the Taurus-Littrow Region of the Moon, during the period 6-19 December 1972. Responsible for the on-board control of the spacecraft Command Module AMERICA and the Lunar Module CHALLENGER, Captain Cernan, through his brilliant and able performance, was an essential element in the success of this vital scientific moon mission. He was on the surface of the Moon for a record time of seventy-five hours, twenty-one of which were spent outside of the Lunar Module conducting vital scientific experiments and gathering invaluable samples of the Moon's surface. As a result of Captain Cernan's skillful leadership, professional competence and dedication, this final APOLLO mission with its numerous tasks and vital scientific experiments, was accomplished in an outstanding manner, thus enabling science to determine more precisely the Moon's original formation and further forecast man's proper role in the exploration of his universe. By his courageous and sincere devotion to duty, Captain Cernan rendered valuable and distinguished service and contributed greatly to the success of the United States Space Program, thereby upholding the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.