Gala to feature naval aviator and astronaut Gene Cernan
Source: Pensacola News Journal
Asking naval aviator and NASA astronaut Capt. Gene Cernan one of the most common questions he receives regarding what it was like going to space and walking on the moon, he said it was like he was “sitting on God’s front porch.”
“Once we lifted off, no one could take it away from me,” he said. “My first steps on the moon were important to me because I fought so hard to get that commander’s seat. I proved to myself that I was good enough and that was important to me. I had my own crew, a chance to walk on the moon — fate was very kind to me.”
Cernan’s journey to space began at Pensacola Naval Air Station, as does many naval aviators’. And in celebrating Cernan’s upcoming film, “The Last Man on the Moon,” to be release early next year, the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation will host a black-tie gala event including an exclusive screening of the film Nov. 4 at the National Naval Aviation Museum.
While the movie features the life of Cernan and his path to space flight, he said it’s really about any young kid and where dreams and persistence can take you.
“Who would have thought back then that I’d be here,” Cernan said. “If this film in any way is a way to give back, I want to give back to kids by showing them what they could have. Dreams can come true. The impossible, indeed, does happen and it can happen to you.”
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, a kid from a blue collar family, Cernan had an impossible dream: he wanted to fly.
His grandparents were immigrants and his parents weren’t afforded the opportunity to go to college but he knew his destiny was in aviation. Pursuing a Navy aviation career, he earned his wings of gold at 23 years old but his dreams were just beginning to unfold.
Nearly six decades later, Cernan is the last man to walk on the moon, and the story of a kid who grew up “plain vanilla” and pursued an impossible dream will be featured on the big screen. But his only hope for the film is geared towards his dreams for the next generation of aviators.
“The dream is still alive in my mind,” he said. “It’s coming up on 43 years since I left the moon. We’re not exploring (anymore), we’re not going where humans have never been before … We need to get back to exploring. Curiosity is the essence of human existence. My grand-kids will see human beings walk on Mars. Our curiosity and desire to understand and know is going to drive us.”
Thinking ahead to his return to the ‘Cradle of Naval Aviation,’ Cernan remembers when he first arrived in Pensacola for flight school and how it felt like he was in a fairy tale land because it was what he had always wanted.
His parents were extremely adamant that he get his engineering degree, and he did, but he remembers thinking that he wasn’t too thrilled about building planes… he wanted to fly them! So coming to Pensacola to learn how to do just that was a dream come true and he’s excited to be coming back, especially to the air station where it all began.
“The first American in space was a naval aviator,” he said. “The first American to orbit the earth wore wings of gold. The first human being to step foot on (the moon) was in naval aviation … And now, the last person to have left his footprints on the moon was a naval aviator. Does that tell the folks of Pensacola how important Pensacola NAS is!”
In the case of NASA astronauts like Cernan, a special connection is formed between Pensacola and the space program, something National Naval Aviation Museum Historian Hill Goodspeed says is a point of pride.
“To have the air station here, where many aviators get their start and take their first flights, is something we’re proud of,” Goodspeed said. “People like Capt. Cernan, Neal Armstrong and a myriad of other astronauts began their path to the stars here in Pensacola. So to have Capt. Cernan come back for an event like this is truly amazing.”
Also excited to not only have the opportunity to meet Cernan but to pay tribute to him and his successful naval career and space experience is Gen. Duane Thiessen, president and CEO of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation.
“Not every day do you get to meet and listen to an iconic, American hero,” Thiessen said. “As the Foundation, it’s our honor to bring this together for NAS Pensacola and the entire community.”