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Astronaut Gene Cernan dies at 82

Celebrate Cernan’s memory in
Starship Gallery

  • Discover the Apollo 17 Command Module in which Cernan traveled to the moon in 1972.
  • See a recreation of Cernan excavating rock and soil samples from the moon during the Apollo 17 mission on the Lunar Landscape.
  • Touch a moon rock and see other moon rocks and soil in our Lunar Vault. Apollo 17 brought back the most lunar samples of all missions.

The last man to stand on the moon died Monday.

“Retired Navy Captain Gene Cernan not only left his footprints on the moon, but in our hearts,” said President and CEO William T. Harris of Space Center Houston. “He will forever be remembered as an inspiration to us all and a strong advocate for Space Center Houston’s educational mission. He helped launch the pathway for future explorers to discover unlimited opportunities.”

The legacy of the last man on the moon lives on at Space Center Houston as generations of people are inspired to explore by hearing his story and seeing the Apollo 17 capsule used on the last mission to the moon. Cernan always was willing to lend his support to the center, Harris said. The astronaut was honored at the center’s fundraising luncheon “Mission to Mars” in 2016 and appeared on a panel at its first Galaxy Gala in 2015.

“Gene will be remembered for his incredible spirit and passion, and his willingness to help others achieve their dreams,” said Fred Griffin, chairman of the board of directors of the Manned Space Flight Education Foundation.

Cernan served as a pilot in the Navy, had a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering, a Master of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering and flew into space three times. He also earned two NASA Distinguished Service medals, two Navy Distinguished Service medals and the Navy’s Distinguished Flying Cross.

During his first trip into orbit aboard Gemini 9, Cernan became the second American to take a spacewalk. Cernan also descended towards the moon in the lunar lander during the Apollo 10 mission but did not land. As such, he’s the only person to have made two different lunar descents.

Cernan was the commander of Apollo 17, leading Harrison Schmidt down to the lunar surface in the lander “Challenger.” Their command module, America, is on display in Space Center Houston’s Starship Gallery.

In all, the astronauts brought back 243 pounds (110 kilograms) of lunar samples and spent 75 hours on the surface of the moon.

Cernan’s final words from the moon voiced an idea he championed throughout his life: that he not be the final person to stand on that lunar soil.

Space Center Houston Sets New Annual Record


More than one million visitors streamed through the doors of Space Center Houston in 2016, marking it as the best-ever year for the nonprofit. The record-breaking one-million milestone came last month, just as the center was poised to open its 25th anniversary year and unveil a new permanent exhibit before Super Bowl LI.


Houston-area Teachers Win Big for their Big Ideas


Space Center Houston and KHOU 11 are proud to congratulate the winners of the Inspiring Curiosity contest, dedicated to engaging students for a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The winners were announced on Wednesday awarding Space Center Houston teacher scholarships and $8,000 in total prize money to help implement engaging science curriculum in the classroom.

KHOU 11 along with William T. Harris, Space Center Houston’s CEO and Daniel Newmyer, Space Center Houston’s director of education went to the school to surprise the grand prize winner Stephanie Shaw at Kaufman Elementary in Conroe Independent School District with the big news. Shaw and her colleague Missy Flanagan collaborated on the contest and are also last year’s winners.

The four Houston area finalists from each grade-level category included Stephanie Shaw, Kaufman Elementary (kindergarten-second grade); Betsy Crafton, Grace School (third-firth grade); Murrai Scanlon, Montgomery Middle School (sixth-eighth grade); and Denise King, Barbers Hill High School (ninth-12th).

All four finalists each will receive a Space Center Houston scholarship to the three-day STEM conference 23rd Space Exploration Educators Conference, Feb. 9-11. The grand prize winner will also choose from scholarships to attend the Space Center Houston’s five-day engineering program Space Center U™ or three Distance Learning sessions for grades second through 12th.

Meet the James Webb Space Telescope

James Webb led NASA in its infancy and directed Apollo to the moon. In 2018, his name will rocket past the moon as part of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

This next-generation telescope will study every phase in the history of our universe, ranging from the glows after the Big Bang to the formation of solar systems including our own. Much like the International Space Station, JWST is a product of international cooperation between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Pieces of this massive space telescope are even now being prepared in NASA Johnson Space Center’s unique vacuum chamber.

When finished, JWST will be able to detect very faint signals, giving scientists a view of the cosmos like they’ve never seen before. For instance, the JWST will complement and extend the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope, with longer wavelength coverage and greatly improved sensitivity. The longer wavelengths enable JWST to look much closer to the beginning of time and to hunt for the unobserved formation of the first galaxies, as well as to look inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today.

The other innovative feature of JWST’s mission is its orbit. JWST will not be in orbit around the Earth, like the Hubble Space Telescope is – it will actually orbit the Sun, 1.5 million kilometers (1 million miles) away from the Earth at what is called the second Lagrange point, or L2. What is special about this orbit is that it lets the telescope stay in line with the Earth as it moves around the Sun. This allows the satellite’s large sunshield to protect the telescope from the light and heat of the Sun and Earth (and moon).

If JWST is orbiting the Sun further out than Earth, shouldn’t it take more than a year to orbit the Sun? Normally yes, but the balance of the combined gravitational pull of the Sun and the Earth at the L2 point means that JWST will keep up with the Earth as it goes around the Sun. The gravitational forces of the Sun and the Earth can nearly hold a spacecraft at this point, so that it takes relatively little rocket thrust to keep the spacecraft in orbit around L2.

Space Center Houston’s Colossal Exhibit Earns Top International Awards

Independence Plaza won the attraction industry’s highest honor at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Expo Brass Ring Awards Ceremony. Marking achievements of excellence in the global attractions industry, Space Center Houston’s colossal exhibit complex earned the prestigious Impact Award and Best New Product for Displays and Sets on Nov. 16.

“We are extremely honored and appreciative that our world-class exhibit received the most prestigious attractions industry award from our colleagues at IAAPA,” said President and CEO William T. Harris. “This exhibit is an unprecedented learning experience for generations to come.”


Space Center Houston named Top Workplace


Space Center Houston is proud to announce it was picked as one of the best places to work in the Houston area by the Houston Chronicle. 150 companies have been selected for the Top Workplaces award.

The Top Workplaces lists are based solely on the results of an employee feedback survey administered by WorkplaceDynamics, LLC, a leading research firm that specializes in organizational health and workplace improvement. Several aspects of workplace culture were measured, including alignment, execution, and connection, just to name a few.

“What makes this honor so special is that it is the employees who earned it,” said the center’s President and CEO William T. Harris. “We all think this is a great place to work and it’s because every team member makes it great.”

If you want to become a part of our team, visit our Careers page to learn about available opportunities.