Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, has died at the age of 82 of "ongoing health issues," his family confirmed.
Cernan was one of 14 astronauts selected by NASA in October 1963. He left his mark on the history of exploration by flying three times in space, twice to the moon.
“Gene's footprints remain on the moon, and his achievements are imprinted in our hearts and memories," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
Cernan was a pilot on Gemini IX in 1966 and became the second American to walk in space.
In 1969, Cernan flew to the moon on Apollo 10.
On his third and final space flight, Cernan was the commander of Apollo 17 in 1972. It was the last scheduled manned mission to the moon for the United States.
Cernan and Apollo 17 crewmate Harrison Schmitt spent three days on the lunar surface. As he followed Schmitt into the lunar lander for the return home, Cernan offered this message: "We leave as we came, and God willing, we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind."
Cernan and his Apollo 17 crew set several new records for manned space flight that include: longest manned lunar landing flight (301 hours 51 minutes); longest lunar surface extravehicular activities (22 hours 6 minutes); largest lunar sample return (an estimated 115 kg (249 lbs.); and longest time in lunar orbit (147 hours 48 minutes).
In September, 1973, Cernan assumed additional duties as Special Assistant to the Program Manager of the Apollo spacecraft Program at the Johnson Space Center. He played a key role in the joint United States/Soviet Union Apollo-Soyuz mission.
Cernan retired from NASA in 1976.
The retired U.S. Navy Captain was awarded two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, the JSC Superior Achievement Award, two Navy Distinguished Service Medals, the Navy Astronaut Wings, the Navy Distinguished Flying Cross and was inducted into the U.S. Space Hall of Fame.
Humbled by his life experiences, particularly as an Apollo Astronaut, the Cernan recently said, "I was just a young kid in America growing up with a dream. Today what's most important to me is my desire to inspire the passion in the hearts and minds of future generations of young men and women to see their own impossible dreams become a reality.”
“Even at the age of 82, Gene was passionate about sharing his desire to see the continued human exploration of space and encouraged our nation's leaders and young people to not let him remain the last man to walk on the Moon," Cernan's family said in a statement.
Cernan is survived by his wife, Jan Nanna Cernan, his daughter and son-in-law, Tracy Cernan Woolie and Marion Woolie, step-daughters Kelly Nanna Taff and husband, Michael, and Danielle Nanna Ellis and nine grandchildren.
"As we say goodbye," the family's statement said, "It seems fitting to share the last line in Gene’s book, THE LAST MAN ON THE MOON, as he explains his experience of walking on the Moon to his then five-year-old granddaughter, “Your Popie went to Heaven. He really did.”
Associated Press & NASA contributed to this report