“You’ve already finished that one?!?!” my wife exclaimed today as I shut the cover on The Last Man on the Moon by Eugene Cernan. Now retired from NASA and the US Navy, Cernan fly aboard Gemini 9, Apollo 10, and commanded the last of the Apollo moon missions, Apollo 17. As commander of Apollo 17, Cernan had the privilege to be the last man to walk on the moon, hence the title of the book.
Like many of the other astronaut biographies and autobiographies I’ve read, I thoroughly enjoyed Last Man. Like Collins, Cernan took ample time describing his flights as an astronaut, but Cernan’s focus in the book was clearly on his moonwalk on Apollo 17. Collins, in Carrying the Fire took time to fully explain his entire journey to join the astronaut corps, the detailed training as an astronaut, and his flights. Cernan, however, mentioned all of those things, but took more time to explain the details that led to him being chosen to fly on Apollo 17. Furthermore, Cernan discussed some issues that seem to have been avoided in other astronaut books, that is the infidelity by some of the corps and the stigma involving divorce in the early years of NASA. He also gave an insider look at the competition between the pilot-astronauts and the first scientist-astronauts.
Above all this book gives one an in-depth look at NASA in the mid to late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Like the books written by his former colleagues, Cernan’s books shows us what is capable when the nation commits to a lofty goal. It is amazing to think that in 10 short years (the original Mercury astronauts were selected in 1959), our country went from having NO spaceflight experience to landing a man on the moon.
What happened to that drive? Cernan does admit that NASA is a product of its own success; the public quickly became bored with NASA. Nevertheless, where is our new goal? Currently, all NASA and the current administration can offer is vague expectations 20 years out.
If we want to inspire more men like Cernan to go and reach for the seemingly unattainable, then it’s time for a new goal…
Who will be the next last man on the moon? Beyond that, when will we be able to say, “Here’s a book by _________. He was the last man to walk on Mars.”