LAS VEGAS — A distinguished panel of legendary aviation personalities gathered at the National Business Aviation Association Convention to honor a man they each point to as an inspiration in their own notable careers and endeavors: Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene “Gene” Cernan, the last man on the moon.
“You empower us, you inspire us, you make the world a better place,” said famed aerobatic performer Sean D. Tucker, who moderated the panel following the presentation of NBAA’s 2013 Meritorious Service to Aviation Award at the event’s Second-Day Opening General Session. “Just for us to be sitting here with you is an honor. This community loves you.”
Gene Kranz — the former NASA mission control flight director who guided Cernan through a total of three missions into space — hailed Cernan as “the first of a new breed” upon his entry into NASA in 1963. “He managed to set a standard [so] that the remaining members of his astronaut class had to really step up to keep the pace,” Kranz added.
Former NASA astronaut Bonnie Dunbar, who logged more than 50 days in orbit over five space shuttle flights, said, “Where Gene had a unique niche is that he is an engineer, who had a commitment to excellence and transferring his knowledge into later programs.”
Bombardier Aerospace President and COO Guy Hachey called Cernan “the perfect ambassador” for the aircraft manufacturer and especially for its Safety Standdown program. “I don’t think there’s anybody more qualified than someone who’s been to the moon and back when we talk about safety and standards,” he added.
“We’re so focused [today] on programs and opportunities, but what Capt. Cernan and those great men did for a generation is that they showed what was possible,” added Barrington Irving, the youngest pilot to fly solo around the world. “We’re missing that today, because with possibility you can do anything, because you have something to dream [about] and to march toward.”
Acclaimed former USAF test pilot and air show pioneer R.A. “Bob” Hoover, hailed by many as possibly the best pilot of all time, placed the accomplishments of Cernan and other pioneering astronauts in the context of those who came before him.
“The transformation in our lifetime around the world has been enormously different than it was through that era of exploration of the ‘sensible atmosphere,'” Hoover said. “Most people have not stopped to realize the high risk that all of these gentlemen accepted in everything associated with the space program.”
In accepting NBAA’s highest honor, Cernan urged those in attendance to do what they can to inspire the future.
“I think all of us on this stage and out there, because of what we’ve been able to accomplish and the mistakes we’ve made along the way, we have an obligation to pass on to the next generation,” he said. “That’s what’s important.”Pictured above: NBAA President Ed Bolen and Gene Cernan