The most recent man to walk on the moon, Eugene Cernan, Capt, USN, ret, BSEE ’56, Purdue, died Monday.
It’s hard to emphasize enough what the space program meant to us in the 60s. If we were thoughtful at all, it brought home to us the kind of dedication that had seen us through World War Two and allowed us to face down the Soviet Union, so far. But at Purdue, it was more than that, it must kind of been like having been in Portsmouth back when the Golden Hind had docked after sailing around the world. My God, it was exciting stuff.
And Purdue was one of the epicenters, sitting right out there in the Hoosier cornfields, well, it was one of the way stations to the stars. Actually, it still is, The Cradle of Astronauts, many call it. It’s justified. In my family, one went to one of two schools, the girls to Valparaiso University, and I followed my brother-in-law to Purdue. In large measure it was an act of hero worship, for him, a CE, for my dad, who quit school in the 11th grade, but may have been the best engineer I have known, but also for those guys, whose names we all knew, from the guys who flew the missions in World War Two, through the first and most recent men on the moon. Who didn’t want to be like them? Well, as they all knew happens, duty intervened. But even now, as a fairly old man, I admire them inordinately. Heroes they were, and are.
Gene was one of the best, and he’ll be missed. It’s always reassuring to know that men like him are in the world, and you know, for all the nonsense we deal with, they’re are a lot of them around. Few are famous, for not everybody can be first, and people like this often believe second is the first loser. But every time you see a man, or woman doing their duty regardless, they are one of them. They are the best of us.
“Gene Cernan was a true hero, a pioneer in aviation and, to us, one of the greatest Boilermakers of all time,” said Purdue President Mitch Daniels. “He will be remembered in the history books as the most recent human to step on the moon. We will remember him as a valued friend and an inspiration to take risks and reach for our goals.”
Cernan earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Purdue in 1956 and an honorary doctorate in engineering in 1970. He was one of 14 astronauts chosen by NASA in October 1963.
“Although Gene Cernan is most often described as ‘the last man to walk on the moon,’ it is most appropriate for us to remember that he insisted on ‘most recent.’ Long after Apollo 17, he continued to inspire our dreams for the future. He was proud to be a Purdue engineer; we will miss him,” said Leah Jamieson, the John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering.
Mike Berghoff, chair of Purdue Board of Trustees said, “His accomplishments in space provided generations of Boilermakers, especially Purdue students, evidence that your careers can be built around your dreams and passions.”
A long-time supporter of Purdue, Cernan served as co-chair of a major fundraising campaign with fellow astronaut and Purdue alum Neil Amstrong, the first man to step foot on the moon.
And you know, so many things that we take for granted today, some as mundane as Velcro, were developed for the space program, when I was a young man, I had a subscription to a NASA publication, the purpose of which was to share technical ideas, and products/developments which NASA had developed with American industry, and the breadth of what they worked on was simply breathtaking.
And now, another one is gone, but will never be forgotten. Brigadier General Chuck Yeager once said
You don’t concentrate on risks. You concentrate on results. No risk is too great to prevent the necessary job from getting done.
That is as good a description of those men and women as I’ve ever read. I count it as the luckiest thing in my life that I knew so many of them.
Godspeed, Gene, and Rest in Peace.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.