Apollo 17 Commander Receives NASA's First Moon Rock Award
NASA presented its first Ambassador of Exploration Award to former astronaut Gene Cernan, who commanded the Apollo 17 lunar landing mission, during a May 12, 2005 ceremony at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla. The award features a piece of moon rock and will remain on display at the National Museum of Naval Aviation.
Credit: NASA.

Apollo 17 Commander Eugene Cernan today received NASA's first Ambassador of Exploration Award during the Naval Aviation Symposium at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla. The award, which features a piece of moon rock, will remain on display at the National Museum of Naval Aviation.

In a letter read to Cernan at today's symposium, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin wrote, "Your outstanding service on three space missions, including two Apollo voyages to the moon, and your challenge to America's youth to 'take us back out there where we belong,' have demonstrated the essence of what our Ambassador of Exploration Awards are all about."

The Ambassador of Exploration Award was announced last July during the 35th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. It recognizes the sacrifices and dedication of the Apollo, Gemini and Mercury veterans.

Each astronaut or their surviving family will be presented with a lunar sample, part of the 842 pounds of moon rock and soil returned during the six moon landings from 1969 to 1972. CBS anchor Walter Cronkite is also an honoree.

Cernan, a Captain in the U.S. Navy, left his mark on the history of exploration by flying three times in space, twice to the moon. He also holds the distinction of being the second American to walk in space and the last human to leave his footprints on the lunar surface.

He was one of 14 astronauts selected in October 1963. He piloted the Gemini 9 mission with Commander Tom Stafford on a three-day flight in June 1966. Cernan logged more than two hours outside the orbiting capsule.

In May 1969, he was the lunar module pilot on Apollo 10, the first lunar orbit test of the lunar module. The mission confirmed the performance, stability, and reliability of the Apollo spacecraft. The flight included coming within eight miles of the moon's surface.

Cernan ended his astronaut career as commander of the final manned mission to the moon in December 1972. Apollo 17 set several new records for human space flight, including the longest lunar landing flight (301 hours, 51 minutes); longest lunar surface extravehicular activities (22 hours, 6 minutes); largest lunar sample return (nearly 249 pounds); and longest time in lunar orbit (147 hours, 48 minutes).

As he left the lunar surface, Cernan said, "America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. As we leave the moon and Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came, and, God willing, we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind."

The Ambassador of Exploration Awards remains NASA's property. The recipients, working with the space agency, select a museum or other educational institution where their awards will be displayed in their name to help inspire a new generation of explorers.

As an Ambassador of Exploration, the recipients will help NASA communicate the benefits of space exploration and work to inspire students to pursue careers in science, mathematics and engineering.

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