Purdue Astronaut Gene Cernan Dies

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(photo courtesy NASA) (photo courtesy NASA)

Gene Cernan, a former NASA astronaut and graduate of Purdue University has died. Cernan was the last man to walk on the moon as part of the Apollo 17 mission in 1972 and spent more than 73 hours on the moon's surface. He was 82.

Cernan earned his bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from Purdue in 1956. He joined the U.S. Navy as a pilot before being selected by NASA in 1963. His first space flight came in 1966 as part of the Gemini IX mission, during which he became the second American to walk in space, according to NASA. 

Cernan served as spacecraft commander in of the Apollo 17 mission, which launched on December 6, 1972. His crew spent three days on the surface of the moon before finally returning to Earth nearly two weeks after launch. In all, Cernan logged more than 566 hours in space. He retired from the Navy in 1976.

"Apollo 17 built upon all of the other missions scientifically," said Cernan in 2008. "We had a lunar rover, we were able to cover more ground than most of the other missions. We stayed there a little bit longer. We went to a more challenging unique area in the mountains, to learn something about the history and the origin of the moon itself."

Cernan's family issued the following statement, courtesy of NASA:

It is with very deep sadness that we share the loss of our beloved husband and father. Our family is heartbroken, of course, and we truly appreciate everyone's thoughts and prayers. Gene, as he was known by so many, was a loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend.

Even at the age of 82, Gene was passionate about sharing his desire to see the continued human exploration of space and encouraged our nation's leaders and young people to not let him remain the last man to walk on the Moon.

In remembrance of Cernan, NASA posted the video below from the Apollo 17 mission:

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