US astronaut Eugene Cernan, the last person to set foot on the Moon, died on Monday at the age of 82. Cernan was the commander of the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, who brought a Czechoslovak flag with him on the 325,000 kilometre journey in honour of his family’s roots.
In December of 1972, Eugene Cernan became just one of three people to travel to the Moon twice (the first time, though, was not a landing mission) he was last person to ever stand on the Moon’s surface. Together with fellow crew member Harrison Schmitt, Cernan conducted a total of three EVA’s or moonwalks, spending more than 20 hours exploring the Moon’s Taurus-Littrow valley, collecting geological samples, using the Lunar rover to cover a distance of some 35 kilometres. He and Schmitt also famously had a bit of fun when they skipped along the Moon’s surface as they sang a rendition of The Fountain in the Park:
“I was strolling on the Moon one day… in the merry, merry month of… December. May! May! When much to my surprise a pair of bonny eyes… Boy, is this a neat way to travel! Isn’t it great?!”
Not long after the last manned mission to the Moon, in 1974, Cernan visited Czechoslovakia but was given the cold shoulder by the then communist regime. During a much later visit to the Czech Republic in 2008, the former astronaut described the 1974 visit to Radio Prague’s Ian Willoughby:
“I took some special flags. Because of my background and heritage I specifically requested a Czech flag to take, with the intent of bringing it back here. Of course at that time, it was one country.”
And what happened when you tried to bring it back here in ’74?
“It was a very trying time back in 1974. I was officially not recognised as a visitor, although everybody knew who I was. I was able to at least deliver the flag – not to the government officially, but I think in the end it went to the Astronomical Society.”
I am sure you get tired of being asked this but how did it feel to be standing on the moon and looking back at the Earth?
“It’s a tough question to answer. It was overpowering to realise where you were in that moment in space and time and history, and that that’s the Earth, a quarter of a million miles away.”
Eugene Cernan also told Radio Prague about his visit to Slovakia - specifically to a church that played a role in the history of his family.
“Several years ago I was in Vysoká nad Kysucou and had a chance to go to church, to go to mass, where my grandparents were baptised in the place they grew up as children, long before they emigrated in their early 20s to the US. That was a special experience.”
Eugene Cernan published his memoir “The Last Man on the Moon” in 1999, which also served as the basis for a 2014 feature documentary about the astronaut’s life.