About C.C. Petersen

I am a science writer and media producer specializing in astronomy and space science content. This blog contains news and views about these topics.

The Last Man to Walk on the Moon Passes into History

R.I.P. Gene Cernan: Moon Explorer

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Captain Gene Certan at a memorial for his friend and colleague Neil Armtrong in 2012.

Today’s news that astronaut Andrew Eugene “Gene” Cernan died came just as I was finishing reading the book Fallen Astronauts. It’s the story of the astronauts and cosmonauts who died from the beginning of the Space Age up until the end of the Apollo missions. Captain Cernan was involved with the authors as they researched and wrote the book and penned a lovely introduction to the work. It is a finely detailed book that I recommend to any fans of space exploration history, particularly the early days.

Captain Cernan was a hero in his own right, taking trips into space on Gemini and Apollo missions. It was on Apollo 17 that he realized the immensity of the U.S. cancelling its moon flight programs, and he spoke movingly of his being the last man to stand on the lunar surface. He later wrote a book called “The Last Man on the Moon”, which was turned into a documentary.

I met Captain Cernan a few times at conferences, and enjoyed talking with him. He always was a kind man. Very polite and willing to talk about his experiences. we once shared a limo ride to a conference, and I  remember sitting there wondering what to ask him without sounding like a space fangrrrl.  Finally, I settled on asking him how it felt to be on the Moon that first night on Apollo 17. He laughed and said that he couldn’t get to sleep; he kept looking out the window of the lander.  He mentioned how excited they both were, and that he’d never forgotten that sense of adventure.

He and Harrison Schmitt spent 22 hours on the lunar surface, collecting rocks and exploring the valley where they landed. One of his most evocative images was one of our home planet hanging blue and white above the gray lunar landscape. It spoke volumes about his perception of our home in space and the enormous steps he and others took to explore the Moon.

It’s with great sadness we salute Captain Cernan’s passing. He is among the dwindling few men who focused our attention on the early days of lunar exploration. I sincerely hope that he will not remain the “last man on the Moon” for long.

Looking Back at Earth from Another Planet

Enjoy the View of Earth from Mars

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Two separate exposures of Earth and the Moon, taken on November 20, 2016, by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE camera.

During the AAS meeting, NASA released an amazing picture of Earth taken by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter currently studying Mars.  We’ve all seen the “pinpoint in a pink sky” of Earth taken by one of the Mars rovers, but this one is the first to really show us what our home planet looks like from the orbit of Mars. I find it specially poignant to look at because, as Carl Sagan once said about the “pale blue dot” image taken by Voyager from the depths of the solar system, everyone we know, who has ever lived, is on that planet.

It’s really quite a view, when you think about it. In a few decades, it will be the view that human Martians will have, hopefully through a great ground-based telescope near their cities. What will they think about as they spy out the old home planet?  It’s an interesting future to contemplate as the next wave of Martian exploration is being planned to carry humans to Mars.