Gene Cernan and I Walk Into a Bar; or, Swearing Around the Moon

Gene Cernan's Apollo portrait. Notice the serious face and steely blue eyes. Credit: NASA

Gene Cernan’s Apollo portrait. Notice the serious face and steely blue eyes, both more obvious in the full sized image. Credit: NASA

In all his official NASA portraits, Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan looks stern. All the Apollo-era astronauts were photographed unsmiling, almost as though it would give tax paying Americans the sense that their national heroes took their roles deadly seriously every waking moment. But Cernan somehow looks more serious than most, and he looks like a man with a natural commanding physical presence. Last November I found myself in a bar with Gene Cernan, and even nearing 79 he absolutely possesses a quietly commanding presence I imagined. It’s incredible. Here’s what happened when I met the last man to walk on the Moon.

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Jack Schmitt’s Christmas Poem

Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt (upside down) during Apollo 17's 1972 mission. Credit: NASA

Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt (upside down) during Apollo 17’s 1972 mission. Credit: NASA

NASA didn’t give its Apollo astronauts too much free time during missions. Crews had to go through multi-stage checklists before any manoeuvre and had experiments to run during the three day transits to and from the Moon. Everything, down to meal times and sleep periods, was scheduled. But as Apollo 17’s Lunar Module Pilot Jack Schmitt found out, you can’t schedule poetic inspiration. Even when you’re on the Moon.  [Read more...]

The Last Words on the Moon

LM Columbia's ascent from the lunar surface, caught remotely on video by the lunar rover's camera. Credit: NASA

LM Challenger’s ascent from the lunar surface, caught remotely on video by the lunar rover’s camera. Credit: NASA

We’ve just passed the 40th anniversary of Apollo 17 leaving the Moon. On December 14, 1972, commander Gene Cernan and lunar module pilot Jack Schmitt in the LM Challenger blasted off from Taurus-Littrow, ending the last manned lunar sojourn. It was a significant event, one worth commemorating with some well chosen words akin to Armstrong’s one small step on Apollo 11. So, what were the last words on spoken on the Moon 40 years ago?  [Read more...]