Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, died Monday at age 82, NASA announced.
The commander of Apollo 17 became the last person to set foot on the moon when he entered the U.S. lunar module in 1972 for the return journey to Earth.
He was the 11th person to walk the moon.
His cause of death was not released.
“There is too much purpose, too much logic, it was just too beautiful to happen by accident. There has to be somebody bigger than you and bigger than me,” he said in the 2007 documentary “In the Shadow of the Moon,” about how he felt while standing on that celestial landscape.
“And I mean this in a spiritual sense, not in a religious sense. There has to be a creator of the universe who stands above the religions that we ourselves create to govern our lives.”
In a statement to NASA, his relatives said, “Our family is heartbroken, of course, and we truly appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers. Gene, as he was known by so many, was a loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend.”
Cernan flew three times in space and walked twice on the moon. The Navy captain was selected by NASA in 1963, along with 13 others, for the space agency’s astronaut program.
He was the lunar module pilot of Apollo 10, the first comprehensive test of NASA’s moon lander, in 1969. In June 1966 he flew the Gemini 9 mission on a three-day space flight with Cmdr. Thomas Stafford.
But it was Apollo 17 that cemented Cernan’s place in NASA history.
The mission set new human records for longest time in lunar orbit, the longest time spent on the moon and the largest collection of lunar artifacts (at nearly 249 pounds).
The trip also made Cernan the last man to walk on the orb, though no one knew it at the time.
“We had a lunar rover, we were able to cover more ground than most of the other missions. We stayed there a little bit longer. We went to a more challenging unique area in the mountains, to learn something about the history and the origin of the moon itself,” he said in the 2007 film.
Cernan retired from the Navy and NASA in 1976 and became a television commentator for early space shuttle flights.
He is survived by his wife, Jan Nanna Cernan, his daughter and son-in-law, Tracy Cernan Woolie and Marion Woolie, step-daughters Kelly Nanna Taff and Michael, and Danielle Nanna Ellis and nine grandchildren.
In his book, The Last Man on the Moon, Cernan said he explained his legacy to a 5-year-old grandchild: “Your Popie went to heaven. He really did.”