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The last man to walk on the Moon had Slovak ancestry

So far, twelve men have set foot on the Moon, the last one being Eugene Andrew Cernan in 1972. On December 7, the world commemorates the 50th anniversary of the last Apollo mission. A captain in the US Navy, he flew into space three times, two being missions to our natural satellite.

Although the American astronaut was born in Chicago in 1934, he was of Slovak descent.

​​​​​​​In the early years of the 20th century, Cernan's grandparents Štefan and Anna Čerňan from the village of Vysoká nad Kysucou, north Slovakia, joined thousands of others in pursuit of the American Dream. They travelled to Chicago where Eugene's father was born.

Fascinated by science and technology, Eugene excelled at university and became a pilot. Later he joined the NASA space programme. In 1963, Eugene was selected as one of 14 astronauts to participate in the Gemini and Apollo space programs.

Three years later, Cernan piloted the Gemini 9 mission on a three-day flight and spent more than two hours outside the orbiting capsule, performing the third spacewalk ever.

The simulations and techniques that Cernan tested during the mission were applied three years later during the Apollo 10 mission, the final "rehearsal" before the lunar landing.

Cernan's last spaceflight occurred in December 1972, but this time as mission commander. On their way to the Moon, the crew captured the now iconic image of the entire Earth, fully illuminated.

Along with geologist Harrison Schmitt, Cernan spent more than three days on the lunar surface, longer than any crew before. Under his command, the Apollo 17 mission achieved several records, including the longest extravehicular excursion into crater activity and the largest sample return.

Eugene Cernan visited Slovakia three times in 1974, 1994 and 2004.

His first visit just two years after his mission to the Moon was uneventful. Communist state representatives did not want to meet with him. People lived in fear from persecution under the totalitarian regime, so when Cernan visited the village of his grandparents, no one mustered the courage to talk to the American astronaut, not even show him where his ancestors used to live.

Moreover, the Czechoslovak authorities hesitated in accepting a Czechoslovak flag he took to space. Only the director of the Astronomy Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences was willing.

After the fall of communism twenty years later, Cernan was invited to visit Slovakia by the Slovak Academy of Sciences. He received the Second Class Order of the White Double Cross, a significant  award  conferred to foreign citizens.

Additionally, in 2004 he opened an exhibition in Bratislava dedicated to archival NASA photos from the Apollo 17 mission.

The Žilina self-governing region gave a special gift to Cernan in 2013 - an artistic family tree of his ancestors from Kysuce.

If anyone left behind an indelible mark, it was Eugene Cernan. Literally, as his footprints on the surface of the Moon still remain. Born to a Slovak father and Czech mother, to this day Captain Cernan is the last man to have walked on the Moon.