Astronaut Eugene Cernan, 1934 – 2017

The passing of Astronaut Eugene Cernan on Tuesday brought back vivid memories for me as I had the privilege of witnessing the Cape Canaveral night launch of Apollo 17, the last mission to the moon on Dec. 17, 1972, which he commanded. He was the last man to walk on the moon.

I owe my good fortune of being there to my employment by Sperry Flight Systems of Phoenix, Arizona, a supplier of high tech avionics for the space program, as well as military and commercial aviation.

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The launch of Apollo 17. (nasa.gov)

I cannot do justice to describing that experience 45 years ago. You had to be there. At ignition of the rocket engines, the night sky became like mid-day, and within seconds the rumble of liftoff caused the ground to vibrate under my feet at the VIP viewing area.

I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Cernan, but I heard many stories about him and the Apollo 17 mission during an interview I had with Astronaut Ron Evans, a crew mate of Cernan’s who, upon retirement from NASA, came to work for Sperry as our director of space systems marketing. Evans stayed in the command module, orbiting the moon, while his crew mates walked on the moon.

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The Apollo 17 crew – Jack Schmitt, left, Ron Evans and Gene Cernan, seated. (pdxretro.com)

I worked closely with Evans in my marketing communications and public affairs role. I was often struck by how unassuming he was. During an EVA on Apollo 17, he was like a kid, saying, “hot diggity dog.” Sadly, he died of a heart attack in his sleep on April 7, 1990.

I also had an opportunity to meet Astronaut Jack Schmitt, the third crew member of Apollo 17, who was elected senator of New Mexico after resigning from NASA. When Sperry opened a defense systems facility in Albuquerque, I invited him to participate in the dedication.

God speed, Astronaut Cernan, give my regards to Ron.

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