NASA astronaut Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, died this week in his Houston home. He was 82.
At 32 years old, Cernan, a Navy captain and pilot before he joined NASA, became the second American astronaut — and the youngest — to walk in space.
He was also the member of a small, select club as one of three people who have traveled to the moon twice. Cernan was the lunar module pilot for the Apollo 10 mission, the “dress rehearsal” that made it possible for the historic moon landing a few months later.
His second trip, which established him as the last human to set foot on the moon, was NASA’s final lunar mission. Cernan also broke several NASA records on that 1972 mission, including the longest time spent in lunar orbit and the largest collection of lunar samples ever brought back to earth.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said of Cernan’s passing, “truly, America has lost a patriot and pioneer who helped shape our country’s bold ambitions to do things that humankind had never before achieved.”
Read on for three lessons from Cernan’s thrilling life.
1. Don’t let fear stand in your way.
The first two times Cernan went to space, things didn’t exactly go as planned. That historic spacewalk ended with him literally flying blind. As he made his way back to the spacecraft, a glitch caused his spacesuit to overheat and flood his helmet with fog. And during Apollo 10, at one point the module began to dangerously spin off course.
Scary as these experiences might have been, Cernan did not let them prevent him from commanding that final mission.
2. Be a mentor.
In his remembrance of Cernan, Bolden recalled, “In my last conversation with him, he spoke of his lingering desire to inspire the youth of our nation to undertake the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) studies, and to dare to dream and explore.”
The astronaut understood the importance of passing on his wisdom to the next generation.
3. Great achievements come from collaboration.
Cernan famously said as Apollo 17 arrived on the moon: “The Challenger has landed. I’d like to dedicate the first step of Apollo 17 to all those who made it possible.” The astronaut knew from hard-won experience that the only way to accomplish big goals was to work together.