Chicago native Gene Cernan, last astronaut on the moon, dies at 82

HOUSTON -- Former astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, has died at age 82.

NASA announced that Cernan died Monday surrounded by his family. NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs confirmed the death but had no immediately details. Cernan was born and raised in the Chicago area.

He may have walked on the moon, but he remained firmly grounded, not just on earth, but also in our part of it. He grew up in Bellwood, went to Proviso before there was an East and West.

A naval aviator, he was recruited by NASA in 1963, went to space three years later, and the rest, literally, is history.

Cernan also took part in a Gemini spaceflight in 1965 and in Apollo 10, the last mission before the one that put Neil Armstrong on the moon in July 1969.

“I think the thing that people don’t realize is that Gene Cernan grew up in an era before space travel," said Bart Benjamin, the former director of the Cernan Earth and Space Center. "He thought that his aspiration was going to be in the skies - he never dreamed of the skies extending out into space.”

Cernan and Apollo 17 crewmate Harrison Schmitt spent three days on the moon in December 1972. As he followed Schmitt into the lunar lander for the return home, he offered a message of "peace and hope for all mankind."

He also traced the initials of his 9-year-old daughter into the dust of the lunar surface.

Today, his space-suit and helmet are at Triton College’s Cernan Earth and Space Center.

"Capt. Cernan was born in Chicago four years after the Adler opened its doors for the first time. Over the years, we have been honored to call him a friend," said Dr. Michelle B. Larson, President & CEO of the Adler Planetarium.