Magazine Slovakia

Super Slovaks: Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon

Bratislava, Slovakia – Joe Biden and Donald Trump agreed on few issues. However, one of President Biden’s first acts was to endorse The Artemis programme, and continue funding NASA’s plans to return a man on the Moon before the end of the decade.

Just as Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo, so this new space programme follows the previous Apollo missions to the Moon. The last of these was almost 50 years ago. The very last man to walk on the Moon was Eugene Cernan, on December 13, 1972.

The roots of Eugene Cernan take us to one of the harshest parts of Slovakia.

Kysuce, the north-western region of Slovakia has always been one of the country’s poorest. Life there in the early 20th century was hard and it was never easy to make a living. Many decided to leave in search of a better life elsewhere.

Stefan Cernan left his village in 1900 and sailed to the USA in pursuit of the American Dream. He was not the only one. In fact, one third of the Slovak nation emigrated to the United States at the turn of the centuries. They were fleeing poverty, but also plagues, starvation and debt.

Once in the New World, Stefan made his way to Chicago and found work in the mines, like the majority of his countrymen. He was delighted when Anna, his fiancée from Slovakia, sailed to join him in 1903. The young couple married, bought a small farm in Wisconsin, and started a family of their own.

Stefan’s grandson Eugene learned resilience and a strong work ethic from his father and grandfather. He helped out on the family farm, learned how to tinker with machines, and spent evenings listening to stories about the mythical land of his ancestors.  

When Eugene was 8 years old, America entered the Second World War. The young boy was surrounded by heroic stories of brave pilots and impossible battles, and his desire to follow in their footsteps stirred in his heart. Watching films about courageous fighter pilots, Eugene told his family: “My dream is to fly!” and fly he did – much further than he could have ever imagined.

Fascinated by science and technology, Eugene excelled at university and became a pilot. He was later accepted to join the NASA space programme. In 1972, Eugene Cernan led the last manned mission to the Moon. He spent three days exploring its surface and collecting rock samples. And because the Moon has no wind, no water and no atmosphere, his footprints are still there. Eugene dreamed big and to this day he is the Slovak who travelled the furthest.

The size of a country cannot be measured in miles alone. The bilingual book Super Slovaks / Super Slováci tells the stories of 50 Slovaks who have changed Slovakia and by doing so shaped the world.

Eugene Cernan was enthused by the Artemis programme and the promise of a return to the Moon, “I believe with all my heart that somewhere out there is a young boy or girl who will take us back where we belong. Let us give that dream a chance.” He passed away in 2017.

The bilingual book Super Slovaks presents other famous Slovaks from Svätopluk to Peter Sagan and each beautifully illustrated biography combines to tell the history of Slovakia. It has been written by a team of Slovak and international historians and will be enjoyed by expats interested in learning about Slovak history, as well as younger readers who can enjoy it independently, or with parents.

The book is also proving popular with Slovaks abroad who want to share their culture with younger family members. The bilingual text means that it can also be a language learning tool. The thought-provoking questions after each biography encourage active engagement with the characters and will be sure to prompt discussion.

By David Keys, Zuzana Palovic and Gabriela Bereghazyova

Art work by Natasa Stefunkova

Co-founded by authors Zuzana Palovic and Gabriela Bereghazyova, Global Slovakia is a Bratislava-based not-for-profit organization that seeks to promote Slovakia on the global stage and foster a constructive discussion about the country’s past history, current events and future perspectives. You can also follow them on Facebook!

Don’t forget to support the Super Slovaks – Book Campaign!

Headed by Kafkadesk's chief-editor Jules Eisenchteter, our Prague office gathers over half a dozen reporters, editors and contributors, as well as our social media team. It covers everything Czech and Slovak-related, and oversees operations from our other Central European desks in Krakow and Budapest.

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