The Last Man on the Moon: Astronaut Eugene Cernan and America's Race in Space

The Last Man on the Moon: Astronaut Eugene Cernan and America's Race in Space

by Eugene Cernan, Don Davis

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The basis of the 2014 award-winning feature-length documentary! A revealing and dramatic look at the inside of the American Space Program from one of its pioneers.

Eugene Cernan was a unique American who came of age as an astronaut during the most exciting and dangerous decade of spaceflight. His career spanned the entire Gemini and Apollo programs, from being the first person to spacewalk all the way around our world to the moment when he left man's last footprint on the Moon as commander of Apollo 17.

Between those two historic events lay more adventures than an ordinary person could imagine as Cernan repeatedly put his life, his family and everything he held dear on the altar of an obsessive desire. Written with New York Times bestselling author Don Davis, The Last Man on the Moon is the astronaut story never before told - about the fear, love and sacrifice demanded of the few men who dared to reach beyond the heavens for the biggest prize of all - the Moon.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312263515
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 07/01/2000
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 131,217
Product dimensions: 9.02(w) x 6.06(h) x 0.98(d)

About the Author

Eugene Cernan (1934-2017) flew in space three times, twice to the moon. He was the pilot of Gemini 9, lunar module pilot on Apollo 10, and commander of Apollo 17. He is the recipient of numerous honorary degrees, military awards, and civilian honors, ranging from selection to the U.S. Space Hall of Fame to a television Emmy.

Donald A. Davis is the author and co-author of more than 20 books, including New York Times bestseller Shooter, the Kyle Swanson Sniper Novels, and Lightning Strike. He lives outside Boulder, Colorado.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Fire on the Pad

Friday, January 27, 1967, was another balmy southern California winter day with temperatures in the low seventies, but a blizzard might as well have been hammering the North American Aviation plant in Downey. Inside the altitude chamber, where Tom Stafford, John Young and I were buckled into a titanium container not much larger than a kitchen table, there wasn't any air, much less any weather. Time, not snowfall or sunshine, was our concern. The most experienced astronaut crew in the U.S. space program, with five completed missions between us, we were trying to bring a new, untried and stubborn spacecraft up to launch standards, and we weren't having much success.

On the other side of the United States, in Florida's afternoon sunshine, three of our fellow astronauts were conducting similar tests in an identical spacecraft perched atop a giant Saturn 1-B rocket at Cape Kennedy. The world knew Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee as the crew of Apollo 1, and they were scheduled to lift off in less than a month. They weren't having much luck either.

and the two-man Gemini series had proven we could walk in space, rendezvous, and endure long flights. Now the time had come for the start of Apollo, the gigantic undertaking that would realize President Kennedy's dream of putting an American on the Moon, and bringing him back alive, by the end of the decade.

this flight, the bird simply wasn't ready. In fact, I was amazed that we were so far along the path toward launch with so many things still going wrong. Before Apollo could fly, tens of thousands of parts in both the rocket and spacecraft had to work flawlessly, and so far, they hadn't. But the damned Russians were breathing down our necks, and we were going to force that spacecraft to do what it was supposed to do, ever if we had to bend some mechanical and physical laws through sheer willpower. Despite the problems, all signals remained go for Apollo 1.

called a "plugs out" test, which meant that everything was being run as it would be for a real mission, except the Saturn was not fueled. In California, our crew was in a duplicate spacecraft in the middle of a chamber that simulated the vacuum of outer space. The cone-shaped command module had given fair warning that this was not going to be a good day even before I climbed aboard. The forty-pound hatch fell on my foot and I could have sworn the bird had dropped it on purpose, part of its evil plot to keep me, Gene Cernan, from ever flying in space again.

couch, then moved over to my own position on the right side of the crew compartment. Although spacious in comparison to the tiny spacecraft of Mercury and Gemini, there still wasn't much room in Apollo, and I carefully eased my feet down among a clutter of unprotected bundles of wires. A technician helped buckle me in and attach the hoses to my suit, then the radio in my helmet came alive with a burst of static. While waiting for the others to climb in, I stuck a checklist onto the Velcro that wallpapered the interior of the Apollo spacecraft. We had discovered that the sticky stuff was the best way to keep things from floating around in zero gravity.

and scooted into his place on the left side. Finally, John Young, the command module pilot, settled into the empty couch in the middle, and, with the help of the guys outside, hauled the big hatch into place over his head and screwed down the multiple clamps that locked it. The thing was heavy and awkward, a big pain in the ass, and in my case, a pain in the foot as well.

oxygen, the same way all American space missions were flown. Then the air was pumped out of the altitude chamber to simulate the environment of space, although we were really at sea level, only a few miles from the Pacific Ocean. When the desired pressure was reached, we checked the suit loops, those serpentine hoses which delivered our life-support systems, and verified the ability of the spacecraft to withstand the vacuum of the "space" now surrounding us. The pressure of the oxygen inside the command module was higher than was the vacuum outside, and pushed against the inward-opening hatch, sealing it so securely that a herd of elephants couldn't have pulled it open. Nobody wanted a hatch to accidentally pop off on the way to the Moon.

we could peel off the bulky suits, jump into a couple of NASA T-38 jets that we had parked at Los Angeles International Airport several days earlier, and fly home to Houston. But first we had to finish the test, even if it took us into the weekend. So we lay there on small couches that looked like little trampolines and monitored the electronic guts of Apollo.

glycol coolant onto the floor of the spacecraft, and electrical short circuits disrupted communications with the control booth just outside the chamber. After a few irritating hours, Tom grumbled, "Go to the Moon? This son of a bitch won't even make it into Earth orbit." Left unsolved, such glitches could stack one atop another and come back to haunt us. Every problem we could find and fix on the ground was one less the guys would have to worry about in space, so we remained locked in our seats, running endless checks of systems, dials, and switches.

the launch date of February 21.

about communication problems. "I can't hear a thing you're saying," he barked to the launch team. "Jesus Christ ... I said, how are we going to get to the Moon if we can't talk between two or three buildings?" Gus didn't mince his words or his actions. As one of the Original Seven astronauts, he had already flown in space twice, and now commanded Apollo 1. Everyone in the program knew that Gus firmly believed that when the first American stepped onto lunar soil, the name patch on his suit would read: GRISSOM. If Gus didn't like something, he let people know; at one point he had hung a huge lemon on a balky command module simulator to compare the malfunctioning space-age machine to a broken-down automobile. Such outbursts added even more color to his crusty reputation.

the astronaut ranks. A West Pointer and the son of a general, slender and good-looking and straight as an arrow, Ed had been the first American to walk in space, just eighteen months ago. The third crewman was a nugget, a rookie. Roger Chaffee had never flown in orbit, but had so impressed our bosses that they assigned him a coveted spot on the first Apollo. Roger was my next-door neighbor and one of my closest buddies.

The litany of problems we were experiencing both at the Cape and Downey had strained the already uneasy relationship between the astronauts and North American Aviation. All of the spacecraft of the Mercury and Gemini programs had come from the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation in St. Louis, and a strong bond of trust had grown between the McDonnell engineers who built the machines and the astronauts who flew them.

The news that North American had won the bidding to be the prime contractor for the Apollo command module had come as a shock to us. We knew the company had a tremendous reputation for building airplanes, but spacecraft were entirely different animals. As the months passed, many of us felt the North American design teams seemed determined to reinvent the wheel rather than build upon what already had been proven to work, an attitude that was difficult to accept in a program that had already endured 20,000 system failures.

suggestions. Just because we had already flown in space and would be the pilots to fly their new creation did not make us experts in their eyes. The North American engineers were working under immense pressure and were not about to let some astronaut "wish list" further complicate the program's already staggering costs and tight schedules. The result was more of an uneasy truce than a full partnership between us.

models, were never meant to go to the Moon, but only to orbit the Earth. Each Apollo flight would build upon the experiences of those before it and stretch our space bridge a little closer to the lunar surface. The Block Ones were little more than buckets of bolts, but damn it, they were the only buckets we had, and by God, we were going to make them fly!

to the Moon, were coming down the line, but would not be ready any time soon, and we desperately needed a launch now. The Russians had put up three unmanned lunar probes in the past year and the space race was scalding hot.

voice of a technician crackled in our headsets: "We're going to terminate the test now and bring you guys down."

tests, "holds" that stopped the clock while something was checked out. We would sit tight and work on other things while the problem was fixed. It might be a few minutes or it might take hours, but it was part of the job.

one, especially the crew, wanted to stop a test before it was complete, because the whole thing might have to be run again, which could take us into the weekend. Besides, dumping the vacuum from the chamber, undoing that damned, complicated hatch, and climbing out while wearing our space suits was not easy.

hang on, finish, and go home. After several hours of work, the problems seemed to be mounting rather than diminishing. Patience was never an astronaut virtue.

was strange. We never took calls, no matter how important, during a test, but they had already started bleeding air into the chamber.

In minutes, technicians would unlock the hatch and help us out.

Maybe something had changed. Something was always changing in the space program. Maybe we had been assigned to be the prime crew on a lunar landing mission. Why not? We had more total hours in space than any other crew in the program, and we were already the official backup crew for the next Apollo flight. But a telephone call about something like that could wait. Whatever it was had to be important.

landing. Or maybe it was our worst nightmare come true, and the Russians were on their way to the Moon. The only other time I could recall such vagueness had been when we lost two astronauts in an airplane crash just before the Gemini 9 mission. I kept it all to myself.

"Might be your campaign manager, Senator," I said. "Maybe the president is calling," cracked John. Tom, disgusted with the termination, didn't think we were funny.

like pulling sardines from a can. John and I stretched our aching muscles as we walked to the Ready Room while Tom snatched the telephone from the hand of a technician waiting right outside the command module. We didn't bother getting out of the suits because we might have to return to work, and taking off a space suit wasn't as easy as slipping out of a sports coat. John and I relaxed for the first time all day, sipping cups of hot coffee and talking about whether we would get home earlier than usual or have to remain in California and start this test all over again tomorrow.

some pretty hairy experiences with T.P., and knew the man to be totally unflappable, always in control. I had never seen him like this. Before we could ask what was wrong, he stared at us and spoke with a halting voice. "There's been a fire on the pad."

"Are the guys all right?"

are dead."

Table of Contents

Fire on the Pad
Sold by the Nuns
Wings of Gold
Albino Angels
Two Commander Shepards
Max and Deke
Any Astronauts Around Here?
The Suit
The Mayor of Pad 19
The Angry Alligator
The Spacewalk from Hell
Annus Horribilis
Phoenix Rising
The Magnificent Beast
Burn, Baby, Burn
There Is No End
Hauling the Mail
The Gamble
The Ice Commander
Secret Mission
Beep, Beep
Fire and Water
Dr. Rock
I Can't Walk!
Top of the Pyramid
Falling to the Moon
Down in the Valley
The Search
Index 349

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Last Man on the Moon 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
bragan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Eugene Cernan was indeed the last man to walk on the moon, and in this memoir he talks about his life, his career, and his experiences in the Gemini and Apollo space programs. He (and his co-author) convey the grandeur and excitement of his journeys to the moon quite well, and that's something I never, ever get tired of reading, but his reminiscences also have a frank, earthy quality to them that's really rather refreshing.This is very much a personal memoir, focused primarily on Cernan's own experiences and perspectives, so if you're more interested in a general overview of the space race, there are much better books for that. (I recommend Andrew Chaikin's A Man on the Moon.) But if you want, for example, to read an almost painfully vivid first-hand account of what it's like to get stuck inside a spaceship hatch after making the "spacewalk from hell," this is definitely the place.
Anonymous 9 months ago
Cernan wrote a lot about his first wife's sacrifices in her role as an astronaut's wife but just before leaving the moon, he only writes his daughters initials in the lunar soil. Too bad he didn't honor his wife that way, too.
starbuck5250 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Despite the subtitle, this is really Gene Cernan's autobiography. It's a good read - Gene covers much of what made him a pilot and astronaut. He shares his life warts and all. A great read.
BrianIndianFan More than 1 year ago
The second person to do something is always a footnote to history - Larry Doby is forgotten in the story of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball and Buzz Aldrin likewise when talking about Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. But, since no one has been to the moon since 1972, Gene Cernan becomes known for being the last man to walk on the moon. This is his story. Cernan started from modest beginnings to get his BS in electrical engineering and Navy commission from Purdue University, followed by an MS in aeronautical engineering from the US Naval Postgraduate program. He had over 4800 hours in jet aircraft and was selected as an astronaut in the third group in October 1963. His career in space consisted of Gemini 9 (with its near disastrous EVA), and Apollos 10 and 17. In recounting his NASA career, Cernan is straightforward and honest about his time there. He fears and then respects Alan Shepard, the dog and pony show of being an astronaut going out to rally support for NASA, and the toll it takes on his wife Barbara. It is on his wife and their daughter Tracy that Cernan saves his most tender words. Their struggle to keep up appearances as the perfect astronaut family most likely leads to their divorce in 1981. Cernan's book is a deep look into the NASA culture of the 60s and 70s. Putting a bunch of jet pilots together is sure to bring out jealousy, rivalry, and a sense of family at the same time. He takes time to reference how the wives formed their own sorority in order to help each other out. Most painfully, the fact that an astronaut's death automatically excludes his widow from the astronaut wives club is told. Families were under pressure to stay together so as not to tarnish the all-American boy image of the husband, as well as his own need to stay away from situations that would place his marriage in jeopardy. Overall, Cernan doesn't pat himself on the back and is honest about where his life has been. For that reason alone, this book is worthy of your time. BOTTOM LINE: The last moon walker tells a first-rate story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You are a true hero!! Thanks for your sacrifice and the sacrifices of all the astronauts and their families .
TenPeaks More than 1 year ago
It's great reading about one of mankinds greatest accomplishments from someone who experienced the whole thing. Gene takes us through his early days when he decided he wanted to be a pilot and also talked about the people who influenced his life. He brings his experience in space to a personal level and you can imagine what he went through as he orbited the earth in Gemini 9 and flew to the moon on his Apollo missions. If you love space history you should read this book. Another great book about the Apollo missions is A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin.
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gbo More than 1 year ago
One of the best non-fiction books I've read.
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Tennisbuff More than 1 year ago
I thought Gene Cernan and Don Davis did a great job and making you feel like you were next to the "Last Man on the Moon". The honesty and portrail of what it was like to be an Astronaut at that time was enthralling. If you grew up in this era like I did, it really gives you a different perspective of that time with NASA. It was hard to put the book down! I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the space race.
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Skip376 More than 1 year ago
An excellent account of the Apollo Missions and the last ones in particular. The Training and the behind the scenes information is very interesting and contains some information that was not generally known by the public. Tells why we haven't been back to the Moon and the reasons why we might consider returning again soon. There are several excellent books on the Apollo Missions and this is just one of the most recent.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've read many books about Astronauts tales of adventure, but this is hands down the best yet. Gene Cernan portrays his stories as a true author not just a space junkie. If you want to find what its really like out there, read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Gene Cernan provided a very eye-opening chronological account of the U.S. space program. From our back and forth space race with the Soviets to the triumph and tragedy that NASA experienced throughout the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, Gene Cernan provided a GREAT look at all aspects of an astronaut's life. An absolute must for anyone who has ever been interested in the U.S. space program or would like to learn about that important part of history.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent account of the Gemini and Apollo missions and Mr. Cernan's role in them. I thouroughly enjoyed the recounting of the launches, space walks, and the lunar excursions. What I couldn't seem to get over, however, were the 'cowboy' tone in which the book is written, and the unrelenting stabs at Buzz Aldrin. At that time, cursing and informal references to other people were probably just part of the astronaut's vocabulary, but since the story is being told by a man who is quite a bit older now, it's difficult to appreciate the true value of this hero when his tone is so offensive. Using the 'F' word, even once, in a book that details not only America's greatest feat but also the very personal life of the author, his wife, and young daughter, is inappropriate. Ditto for the 'S' word and for all the rest. It's easy to see, judging from the description of the tensions that arose during the author's distinguished career as an astronaut, that not every person will get along. Regardless of whether or not the reader likes Buzz Aldrin, he did play an important role in the space race. To spend book space painting him in an ugly light makes the author look small and selfish. The reader is invited to make his/her own judgements about Mr. Aldrin at the end of one of these tirades, but I fail to see the point of the invitation by the author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago