January 23, 2017 5:20 AM EST

Danger seemed to shadow the space career of Eugene Cernan, who died on Jan. 16 at 82. On a space walk outside the Gemini 9 spacecraft in 1966, his visor fogged up and his suit overheated. On Apollo 10, three years later, his lunar module spun out of control just a few miles above the surface of the moon.

It was only as commander of Apollo 17 in 1972, the very last lunar landing, that Cernan would enjoy the perfect mission, spending three days exploring the moon’s surface. He left with a few words for posterity. “We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return,” he said, “with peace and hope for all mankind.” Nearly half a century on from his moon walk, Cernan is now among the stars. But his footprints in the lunar soil remain. Even more enduringly, so does his legacy.


This appears in the January 30, 2017 issue of TIME.

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Write to Jeffrey Kluger at jeffrey.kluger@time.com.

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