By Mark Rhoads –
I have had the privilege of meeting retired astronaut Gene Cernan three times and I was present at Cape Kennedy in 1972 when his Saturn V rocket took off for the moon. It was the only night launch of a Saturn rocket and it was so spectacular it seemed like a small sun had come up again.
A documentary movie about Capt. Eugene Cernan will debut in Chicago-area theaters on Feb. 26. Not only was Gene the last man to walk on the moon in 1972 but he was also the only Apollo astronaut from Illinois. Gene was born in Chicago in 1934, raised in Bellwood, and graduated from Proviso East High School in 1952.
After graduating from Purdue University, he went on to become an electrical engineer and a Navy fighter pilot before he joined the NASA astronaut program. He was the Lunar Module Commander for Apollo 10 in 1969 and the Commander of Apollo 17 in 1972.
He returned to Bellwood several times in the 1970s and 1980s and was honored by the Illinois State Society of Washington, DC in 2001 when he received the society's "Outstanding Illinoisan Award." Gene is now 81 years old.