Apollo 17 mission (1972), Eugene Cernan: "The last Man on the Moon", ( 2008 ) HD

The head of the San Diego Air & Space Museum said the country lost a “true American hero” Monday with the death of Gene Cernan, an International Air and Space Hall of Fame inductee who was the last man to stand on the moon.

Gene Cernan of Apollo 10 and 17. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

A statement from his family said Cernan died “following ongoing health issues,” but didn’t release details. He was 82.

The Illinois native was the pilot of Gemini 9, when he became the second astronaut to conduct a spacewalk, was the lunar module pilot of Apollo 10, and the commander of Apollo 17 in December 1972.

“As a member of the International Air & Space Hall of Fame, a naval aviator who trained right here in San Diego, and as a regular visitor to our museum, Gene will always hold a special place at the San Diego Air & Space Museum,” said Jim Kidrick, the museum’s president and CEO.

Francis French, the museum’s education director and a space historian, said Cernan spent the rest of his life after the Apollo missions “conveying his vivid experiences in ways that brought a tear to the eye of most audience members.”

He authored a book about his experiences, “The Last Man on the Moon.”

“He felt a responsibility not only to share his memories, but also to inspire young people to become explorers,” French said. “He dearly hoped that he would live to see someone else take his unwanted title of the last person to stand on the moon — it is very saddening that he did not live to see this happen.”

The final visit to the moon was the longest of the Apollo missions. Cernan and astronaut Jack Schmitt spent 22 hours over three days roving about the lunar surface, collecting around 250 pounds of materials to study.

He wouldn’t have had that opportunity if he hadn’t survived the spacewalk six years prior, in which he ran into numerous obstacles — including difficulty manuevering, a visor that fogged up and radio troubles. His experience prompted NASA to modify equipment and procedures for later spacewalks.

Cernan entered the museum’s International Air & Space Hall of Fame in 2007.

His family said he is survived by his wife, Jan Nanna Cernan; his daughter and son-in-law, Tracy Cernan Woolie and Marion Woolie; stepdaughters Kelly Nanna Taff and husband, Michael, and Danielle Nanna Ellis; and nine grandchildren.

Services were pending.

— City News Service