Cernan Center Honors Namesake, Bellwood Native On 50th Anniversary Of Apollo 17

Eugene Cernan on the Moon during the Apollo 17 mission. | Public Domain 

Moon rock on display at the Cernan Center. | Provided

Tuesday, November 29, 2022 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

Fifty years ago next week, Eugene Cernan — raised in Bellwood and a two-sport athlete (football and basketball) at Proviso Township High School in Maywood — sat eagerly aboard the three-person Apollo 17 flight, poised for takeoff. 

The Saturn 5 rocket that propelled Cernan, Ron Evans, and Jack Schmitt into space lifted off from Cape Kennedy, Fla., on the night of Dec. 7, 1972. It was the first night-time rocket launch in human history. 

“The fire was bright and grew brighter, unbelievably white and intense, blinding eyes that couldn’t take anymore and couldn’t stop looking,” wrote Associated Press reporter Harry. F. Rosenthal. 

“A night launch is something to behold,” Maj. Robert F. Overmeyer, speaking on earth from Mission Control, told the astronauts. 

“Your eyes will never see anything like that again if you live a thousand years,” Julian Scheer, a former space agency spokesman, told Rosenthal. 

“Day is one thing; night is something,” Cernan said during an interview in 2014. “People said the world lit up from without. I could even see the light reflected on the atmosphere above me.” 

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 17 flight, Triton College’s Cernan Earth and Space Center, named after the Apollo 17 commander and Proviso Township native, is hosting a special exhibition that runs now through April 10, 2023. 

After graduating high school, Cernan attended Purdue University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He died in 2017, in Houston, Texas.

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The Cernan Center exhibit features an interactive activity presented on a large, flat-touch-screen-table, Triton officials said.

“The table will run a program called ‘Colonize Mars’ in which multiple users can work to develop a colony on Mars through several stages of objectives,” officials announced last month. “Players can work individually or together to build their colony as quickly as possible.”

The exhibit will also show attendees what Apollo astronauts ate and what equipment they relied on during missions. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) ran Project Apollo from 1961 to 1972.

Cernan in space during the 1972 Apollo 17 mission. | Public Domain 

During the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972, Cernan left his footprints on the moon’s surface — the last astronaut to do so.

The exhibit has photos from that mission, along with a lunar sample, or moon rock, that the Apollo 17 crew collected. The moon rock is exhibited within a Lucite pyramid and sits on a lit pedestal, which NASA loaned to Triton. Nearby, various exhibits examine lunar geology, the moon’s origin and the Apollo mission’s effect on popular culture.

Along with the exhibits, the Cernan Center’s Planetarium will feature several shows, including “Dawn of the Space Age,” “Forward! To The Moon,” “One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure – Early Explorers” and a holiday-themed laser show, “A Trans-Siberian Christmas.”

Admission to the Cernan Center exhibits is free. The Planetarium admission is $4 for youth ages 2 to 17 and seniors 55 and over. Tickets for adults are $8.

The Triton College Cernan Earth and Space Center is open Monday through Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Saturday, 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The Cernan Center is closed on Sundays.

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