Eugene Cernan (1934-2017)

I think it was 1989, maybe early 1990, back in the Philippines. I was in 7th Grade. We went on a field trip to see the Ripley’s (of Believe It Or Not” fame) traveling show “World’s Firsts,” which was visiting Manila at the time. That day they had a guest speaker: Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene Cernan. (Some irony there, I suppose: that an exhibit about first things would feature the last person to have walked on the moon.)

I don’t remember much about the presentation; all I could think of was an Apollo documentary I had seen showing the EVA where Cernan and fellow astronaut Jack Shmitt had found orange-colored soil.

So when Q&A time came up, I bounded up to the mic (which I vividly recall gave me a strong static shock) and excitedly asked “Remember the orange soil? What was it? Was it radioactive? Was it some kind of ore?”

Cernan was extremely pleased by this. “Now this kid, this kid has done his homework,” he said, “We did find orange soil.” He went on to talk about iron oxide in the soil and volcanic activity, but the rest of the day my head was abuzz with praise from an astronaut who’d walked on the moon.

He died on January 16th, 2017, still the last man on the moon. We still have not returned. But I’ve done my homework.