Cernan’s death bookmarks the final chapter of NASA space program

Meagan DeGraaf- Staff Writer

Back in 1972, the last man to step off the moon and onto Apollo 17 did not become nearly as famous as Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin. The man did, however, recently hold the title of the one who had most recently stepped foot on the moon.

Eugene Cernan, a retired U.S. Navy captain and two-time moon visitor, died at the age of 82 on Jan. 16. A month prior, astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, passed away, as well.

Cernan, as he stepped into the ship for the last time, said over the radios “as I take man’s last steps from the surface, back home, for some time to come … I’d like to just list what I believe history will record that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow.”

“Godspeed to the crew of Apollo 17,” Cernan said.

The death of these important astronauts is indicative of the amount of time that seems to have passed since our nation’s – our world’s – race to the moon. Some professors, faculty and parents lived during the original moon landing, but most Dordt students have not experienced one during their lifetime.

Some students grew up wanting to become astronauts someday, only to be gutted after learning that NASA no longer desires to send people to the moon.

The moon race, propelled by North American competitiveness, was won, but now it is over. The missions, both the failures and the successes, amassed huge bills. Much of scientists’ interest was satisfied by the documented details of the moon, and the things left unknown would have to be sent down by rovers.

John Zwart, a Dordt physics professor, worked at NASA during five summers during the 80s and 90s. Zwart explains the reason for the switch from live astronauts to computers and rovers as being financially and technologically based. He said that technological advances make it easier, safer and more cost-effective to send machines rather than people into space.

“One of today’s programmable calculators is a better computer than what they had [when astronauts were sent to space],” Zwart said. “Today much of what astronauts did can be programmed into equipment.”

Glenn fought for the exploration of space up until his death last December, berating the U.S. government for defunding the program that allowed the nation to create the international space station our country shares with Russia.

“If there’s one thing we have learned through the history of our country,” Glenn said in a 2012 interview, “it’s that money spent on basic research has a way of paying back in the future beyond anything we ever see at the outset.”

While NASA gives no indication of sending people to the moon in the imminent future, the institution is experimenting with the possibility of a trip to Mars.

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