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Gene Cernan Gene Cernan
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Gene Cernan

Gene Cernan flew on Gemini 9, Apollo 10, and Apollo 17. Of the 12 Apollo astronauts who walked on the moon, Cernan was the last.

On Gemini 9: "Notwithstanding the fact that we were moving through or around the Earth or through space at 17,000 miles an hour, everything I touched on the spacecraft ... would touch me back and I would go tumbling back out in space."
Here I am, 250 pounds in my spacesuit and all my gear and everything and in zero gravity, it's somewhat of a helpless feeling, quite frankly. And I had now to assemble this backpack, and I had to pull down the arms and twist them and turn on the oxygen, and there were just a myriad of physical, heavy physical work and labor to do and we take for granted gravity. Because we can do that kind of work with ease if something is holding our feet to the ground. Nothing was holding me anywhere. Notwithstanding the fact that we were moving through or around the Earth or through space at 17,000 miles an hour, everything I touched on the spacecraft or twisted or turned or tried to move would touch me back and I would go tumbling back out in space. And finally, I just had to twist the handle and try and keep my body in position with literally the strength of my wrist and my forearms. I did get overheated. We found out the Gemini spacesuit was, well, oxygen was flowing to keep me cool as well as to breathe, and it wasn't good enough. My visor got fogged. In nighttime, I had two little pin lights. One actually didn't work, so I couldn't see very well. My visor was fogged. The sun sets, it's nighttime. I, in fact, had ripped one of the interior insulation layers at the back of my suit. And when I was working during the daytime I could feel the heat of the sun just bear through my suit. It was a real challenge. I was determined, and I finally did get in this astronaut-maneuvering unit. I finally did get it assembled, checked out, strapped in, took off my lifeline, my oxygen umbilical and communications umbilical that lead directly to the spacecraft, and I literally put myself out there on my own. All Tom Stafford had to do was flip a switch, and I would have been out there free to fly around space like we see perhaps in the comic strips of 50 years ago when we talk about Buck Rogers.

On Apollo 17: "We just landed on another world somewhere in this universe."

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Well, the first thing that happens when you land is you experience the most quiet moment in your entire lifetime. I mean when you're coming down everything's dynamic: It's shaking, the engines are running, you're flying, you're landing and you get close and you hear Jack talking, you're listening. You've got dust and all of a sudden you shut down. And wow, you are now where no man has ever been before. It's quiet, it's still. There's nothing moving, there's no wind, there're no trees. I mean, you look around, and it's almost like science fiction. I mean, I'm looking at these mountains, I'm looking at these craters around us. We just landed on another world somewhere in this universe. That's the way I felt. And, of course, the first thing we wanted to do was make sure we were capable of getting out of there if we had to. And once we were satisfied the spacecraft was still in one piece and there were no hisses and pops and noises and what have you, we began to open our eyes wide and begin to look out and see what we could see and try to describe a little bit about what we were looking at. And the magnificence of it all: I think it was described by one of my peers as "magnificent desolation," and that's what it was. But we were truly the first flight, maybe the only—well if we were the first we were certainly the only because we were the last—to land in a valley that had these magnificent mountains just surrounding us, encompassing us on all sides. And they were very prevalent. You couldn't really appreciate the size of them. Because you had no trees, no telephone poles, no cars, no houses to gauge size and distance with. And oftentimes I go into the mountains now, and I keep thinking, You know, that's high, but when I was on the moon the mountains I was looking at were twice as high as the top of the Rockies from a valley in the middle of Colorado.

On Apollo 17: "Finding orange soil on the moon was a surprise, and when I heard Jack say that, I knew this geologist had been on the moon too long."

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Well, we were driving to these geology stations, and we were doing geology while we were driving. Jack was picking up samples, we were taking pictures. One of the most important things about the geology on the moon is your descriptions of what you see, comparing them to things that you've seen on Earth so that the geologists and the scientists on the ground would know what you're talking about; and then take pictures of them. So in real-time you'd say "Listen, I've seen this lineation over here which we didn't anticipate which has some changes to it that we didn't look for, wait a minute, let's stop and take a picture of them." So our geology continued while we were driving. We get to a particular station, we have certain tasks at that station, because from pictures they had seen previously, the geologists wanted to look and get answers to some questions. And one of these stations was Shorty Crater. I think it was the second day or so. Jack was digging a trench, and I was over doing some other geology work. Most of the time we worked together, but sometimes we had tasks where we worked separately. And he yells out that, "Hey, it's orange, it's orange! I found orange soil!"

Now, the moon is bland in color. I call it shades of gray. You know, the only color we see is what we bring or the Earth, which is looking down upon us all the time. And to find orange soil on the moon was a surprise, and when I heard Jack say that, I knew this geologist had been on the moon too long. I knew he was running out of oxygen, or it was time to take him home. And I went over there and I said, "Don't move it, don't move it until I see it." Now, I don't know how much he sees, whether he saw an orange rock or what he saw. And sure enough I started over there and I was 10, 15 feet away, and I could see it was orange. The first thing I did was pick up my gold visor, which was a sun visor, to make sure I wasn't seeing something that was being tinted by the visor. And sure enough, I mean, it was orange. It was truly an exciting find. No one knew what it was, whether it was old soil, new soil, soil from oxidized soil, an indication of oxygen or iron ore deep from the inner surface or whatever. It didn't turn out to be what people thought it might be, but it was a major discovery. And that's why you send people.

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