Gene Cernan Dies, Leaving Marks On Purdue And The Moon

Jan 17, 2017

Astronaut Eugene Cernan in his suit for the Apollo 10 mission -- which took place just a couple months before the crew of Apollo 11 landed on the moon (something Cernan himself would do three years later).
Credit courtesy NASA

The last man to walk on the moon – NASA astronaut and Purdue University graduate Gene Cernan -- has died.

Cernan became the answer to a trivia question when he was the last human to leave his footprints on the lunar surface as part of the Apollo 17 crew in 1972.

But historian John Norberg, who’s written about Purdue’s connections to the space race, says Cernan wouldn’t want today’s students to think of him that way.

“He always said, ‘I don’t want to be known as the last man on the moon,’" Norberg says. "Although he did put that in the title of his book. He said, ‘Call me the most recent person to walk on the moon, because somebody else is going to come along and do it again.’”

Cernan’s lunar trip took place on the last craft to touch down on Earth's only satellite before the Apollo program was mothballed.

Norberg says other Purdue astronauts, such as Jerry Ross and David Wolf, are now the public face of Purdue’s space flight program, following the deaths in recent years of Cernan and Neil Armstrong.

Norberg says Ross holds the record for most space missions flown, with seven blast-offs to his credit.

Six of Purdue's 23 astronauts have now died.