Former astronaut urges fearless approach to life

Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2002

For astronauts who traveled to the moon in the 1960s and '70s there was no Plan B if something went wrong.

But despite the dangers of space travel, former astronaut and moonwalker Eugene A. Cernan said he never was afraid.

"I was apprehensive because we were vulnerable to unplanned circumstances," Cernan told an audience of about 450 people Wednesday afternoon at Centennial Hall. "But I was never afraid because I never considered not coming home."

Cernan challenged today's youth to demonstrate that same sort of fearlessness when facing any goal in life.

"Don't be afraid to make a mistake," Cernan said. "If you're afraid, you won't try. And if you don't try, you won't succeed."

Cernan was the first speaker in the four-part Pillars of America Freedom lecture series sponsored by the Glacier Valley Rotary Club.

He accompanied the lecture with a slide show from his three trips into space.

Cernan was the second American to walk in space, during his mission on Gemini 9 in 1966. He was a crew member on the Apollo 10 and Apollo 17 moon flights.

The 1972 Apollo 17 mission was NASA's last manned flight to the moon, making Cernan the last of 12 Americans to set foot on the lunar surface.

He said the ship landed in the valley of a rugged region of the moon where mountains reached higher than 8,000 feet. Cernan and the crew spent three days in the valley studying various aspects of the moon and facing "unplanned circumstances."

"Dust turned out to be our biggest problem," Cernan said. "It was so fine it got in the ship and it got in your suit - it got in everything."

Cernan showed one of his favorite photographs of the trip, which pictured the crew's lunar module sitting in the middle of the valley where they landed.

"It's one of my favorite pictures, not because it shows so much, but because it shows the sense of vastness behind the moon," he said.

Since walking on the moon, Cernan has traveled the world studying geological forms similar to those on the lunar surface. But he said he has never felt the same sense of vastness until he traveled to Juneau 10 years ago and stood on the Mendenhall Glacier.

"I really hadn't been anywhere where I really got the feeling of not only what (the moon) looks like, but what it feels like, with the exception of one place, and that's the Mendenhall Glacier," Cernan said. "I felt like I was out there a quarter of a million miles away in space."

Following the slide show, Cernan took the audience back four decades, when President John F. Kennedy announced that the United States would dedicate itself to landing someone on the moon during the decade of the '60s.

"He challenged our spirit, he challenged our pride, and perhaps most importantly he challenged our commitment to the future," Cernan said.

He said America needs to continue that commitment by providing tomorrow's generation of astronauts with the right tools to continue exploring space.

Dressed in a shiny silver astronaut's space suit, 8-year-old Alan Young of Juneau had more pressing concerns than how future trips into space would be funded.

"How did you get your mom to let you go into space," Young asked Cernan during a question-and-answer session following the presentation.

Young, a second-grader at Glacier Valley Elementary, said he's more interested in traveling to the moon than Mars because of the "bad hurricanes" on the red planet, but probably would go to either one if his mom says it's OK.

"I'm going to try to get ready as much as I can in case my mom changes her mind," Young said.

The next Pillars presentation is April 24 when ace pilot Stephen Ritchie will speak.

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at

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