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Friday, May 24

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For as long as I can remember, my parents have subscribed to the Sky Calendar from Abrams Planetarium at Michigan Sate University. Growing up, the single sheet of colored paper occupied a familiar and near-permanent spot on the refrigerator. And though the refrigerators have changed over the years, the Sky Calendar still retains its accustomed space in my parents' home.

With its illustrated schedule of special astronomical events on one side, and a current star chart on the other, the Sky Calendar instilled in me a special appreciation for the mysteries of the night sky. Despite the fact that light pollution in Chicago ensures that all but the brightest stars are forever obscured, I still take the time to pause to identify a constellation, point out a planet, observe the moon or spot a satellite. And I'm not the only one.

Eugene Andrew Cernan was born in Chicago on March 14, 1934. His father worked in a Navy munitions plant in Forest Park, while his mother worked for Jefferson Electric, assembling transformers. He grew up in Bellwood and graduated from Proviso Township High School in Maywood.

As a boy he dreamed of becoming an aviator, so he joined the Navy while earning a degree in Electrical Engineering at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. He graduated in 1956 and entered flight training.

Then, in 1963, Captain Cernan became one of 14 astronauts selected by NASA for the Apollo program, the ultimate goal of which was to land the first man on the moon. He took part in several space missions. First, in 1966, he orbited the earth aboard Gemini 9. Then, in 1969, he flew into lunar orbit on Apollo 10, a test run that paved the way for the historic flight of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on Apollo 11. Finally, Eugene Cernan earned the dubious honor of being the last man on the moon in December 1972, as the commander of the Apollo 17 mission. Cernan also earned the distinction of being only one of three men to make two trips to the moon. He retired from NASA in 1976.

In 1974, Triton College in west suburban River Grove, not far from his native Bellwood, opened the Cernan Center, a public planetarium, in honor of his achievements. Today the Cernan Earth and Space Center continues to offer a wide variety of planetarium programs, lectures and special events.

Today, if Cernan has any regrets, it is only that we have not made it back to the moon. In a 1997 interview for the Daily Herald, Cernan declared, "The good news is that here I am, the last man to have left his footprints on the surface of the moon. The bad news is that here I am, 25 years later, still the last person to have left his footprints on the surface of the moon."

Although now it is closer to 35 years since he left his mark, Cernan still has hope for the future. In a 2003 article he wrote for Aviation Week & Space Technology, Cernan predicted, "The next century of flight will see our children, grandchildren, and theirs go faster, higher and farther. It will see mankind go back to the Moon, on to Mars and beyond. I don't know what's 'way out' there, but I want to make sure others have the opportunity to find out. My biggest dream now is to see other live theirs."

And, as I look out now to enjoy the most recent full moon, I hope we have an opportunity to find out, too.

Sources and Further Reading

Cernan, Eugene A. "Oh the Places You'll Go." Aviation Week & Space Technology, 24 March 2003, 49.

Cernan, Eugene A. and Don Davis. The Last Man on the Moon. New York: St. Martins Press, 1999.

"Gene Cernan." Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Vol. 22. Gale Group, 2002.

O'Brien, Bill. "The last man on the moon twenty-five years ago this week," Daily Herald, 15 December 1997, 1.

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About the Author(s)

Alice Maggio is a real, live Chicago librarian. If you have topic ideas or questions you would like answered, send your suggestions to and it may be featured in a future column.

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