Apollo 17 Commander Eugene Cernan, the last human to leave the surface of the moon in the 20th century, dies at the age of 82. One of the members of NASA’s second astronaut class, recruited in 1963 to take part in the Gemini program, Cernan first flew into space aboard Gemini 9 in 1966, a mission in which he became the second American spacewalker, though his assigned tasks outside the Gemini spacecraft proved to be dangerously exhausting. His second flight, as the lunar module pilot for Apollo 10, saw him flying a lunar lander to within miles of the moon’s surface in May 1969, a dress rehearsal for the upcoming Apollo 11 mission. He commanded the final Apollo moon landing mission, Apollo 17, in December 1972, where he earned the title of “last man on the moon” by being the last astronaut to leave the lunar surface to re-enter the Apollo 17 lander. He later wrote an autobiography about his spaceflight experiences, and was frequently outspoken about his disappointment that no one walked on the moon again in his lifetime.
Gemini and Apollo astronaut Richard “Dick” Gordon dies at the age of 88. A veteran of the record-setting Gemini 11 mission (during which he undertook a spacewalk at the unprecedented altitude of 850 miles above Earth’s surface) and the Apollo 12 mission (during which he manned the command module Yankee Clipper while crewmates Pete Conrad and Alan Bean walked on the moon), Gordon was a naval aviator who eventually graduated to test pilot duties, eventually specializing in the F4H Phantom II fighter and teaching other pilots how to fly it. After his Apollo flight and retirement from NASA, Gordon kept working in the technology and engineering industries, but also diversified, becoming Executive VP of the New Orleans Saints football team.
Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden dies at the age of 88. As the mission’s command module pilot, he was the only member of Apollo 15’s crew to not walk on the moon, though he does still hold the distinction of performing the furthest spacewalk from Earth, when he retrieved film cannisters from the body of the service module, requiring him to suit up and venture outside the vehicle while it was roughly halfway on its journey from the moon back to Earth. With the other members of the crew, he was embroiled in a seemingly minor scandal involving space-flown postal covers that turned out to almost be a career-ender once the astronauts were back on Earth; he made the jump to NASA’s Ames Research Center rather than returning to the Air Force, where he had been a past instructor at the Aerospace Research Pilot School, reporting directly to Colonel Chuck Yeager. After retiring from NASA, he made an unsuccessful run for Congress in 1982, and continued promoting the space program and science education.
Apollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins, who remained in the command module Columbia in orbit of the moon while his crewmates, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, landed on the moon, dies at the age of 90 after battling cancer. Upon returning to Earth, Collins opted to retire from NASA and found work within the United States government, leading to his becoming the first director of the National Air & Space Museum, a facility which had yet to open at the time he took charge of it. Collins wrote a memoir, Carrying The Fire, in 1974, one of the earliest astronaut memoirs (and the first from a member of the crew charged with making the first lunar landing). Prior to Apollo 11, he had flown with John Young aboard Gemini 10, and prior to that had distinguished careers as both a fighter pilot and a test pilot. He applied for the second group of NASA astronauts, but didn’t make the cut until NASA was recruiting its third class.