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13 Fast Facts About Easy Rider

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Easy Rider’s tagline of “A man went looking for America and couldn’t find it anywhere” transcended moviedom. Once called The Loners, Dennis Hopper co-wrote, directed, and starred in the Oscar-nominated biker flick about two men riding motorcycles from Los Angeles to New Orleans to Florida during the tumult of the Vietnam-era ’60s. Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson also starred, and Fonda co-wrote the script with Terry Southern and Hopper, and produced it.

With a budget of well under $1 million, the 1969 guerilla film went on to gross more than $60 million worldwide; the Criterion Collection referred to the movie as “the definitive counterculture blockbuster.” After filming finished in 1968, it took Hopper a year to edit 80 hours of footage, which included scenes of real drug use, and a jaw-dropping conclusion. Despite a difficult shoot, it launched the prosperous New Hollywood period of moviemaking, and ignited a revolution in cinema that we haven’t recaptured since. Here are 13 far out facts about the seminal movie.

1. THE MOVIE WAS MADE FOR THE YOUTH OF THE TIME.

Before Easy Rider, Hollywood was churning out happier films starring the effervescent Doris Day, but Dennis Hopper’s film changed that. “They were making films like Pillow Talk and The Glass Bottom Boat. Gidget? That’s not a kids’ film. Beach Blanket Bingo? C’mon,” Fonda told The Hollywood Reporter. “Those were not really films of the youth that I had grown into and up with, shutting away the establishment, going on their own. We made a movie for these people that didn’t have their own movie.”

Karen Black, who played one of the prostitutes in the movie, agreed with Fonda’s sentiment. “When you went to see a movie like Easy Rider and when you saw these guys really smoking grass by the fire, and really the camaraderie was warm, real, and rare, you went, ‘What the hell am I looking at? This has value! This has a completely different kind of value than Pillow Talk,” she said in the documentary Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. “This is something extraordinary. I want more of that. And then I think it went a bit far, because I kept seeing movie people vomit.”

2. THE PRELIMINARY ENDING INVOLVED BILLY AND WYATT SAILING INTO THE SUNSET.

One of the most shocking things about Easy Rider is its ending, where both of the leads violently perish. “The initial idea had to do with a couple of young guys who are fed up with the system, want to make one big score, and split,” Terry Southern told Creative Screenwriting. “Use the money to buy a boat in Key West and sail into the sunset was the general notion, and that was slated to be the film’s final poetic sequence. It wasn’t until the end that it took on a genuinely artistic dimension—when it suddenly evolved into an indictment of the American redneck, and his hatred and intolerance for anything remotely different from himself—somewhat to the surprise of Den Hopper: ‘You mean kill ‘em both? Hey, man, are you outta your gourd?!?’ I think for a minute he was still hoping they would somehow beat the system and sail into the sunset with a lot of loot and freedom. But of course, he was hip enough to realize, a minute later, that their death was more or less mandatory.”

3. IT WAS ONE OF THE FIRST FILMS TO INTEGRATE FOUND MUSIC.

Instead of hiring a musician to compose a score for the film, Hopper decided to use pre-recorded music from Bob Dylan, The Band, Steppenwolf, and Jimi Hendrix on the soundtrack. “No one had really used found music in a movie before, except to play on radios or when someone was singing in a scene,” Hopper told Interview Magazine. “But I wanted Easy Rider to be kind of a time capsule for that period, so while I was editing the film I would listen to the radio. That’s where I got ‘Born to Be Wild’ and ‘The Pusher’ and all those songs.”

The filmmakers had to show the movie to the different bands involved in order to get licensing approval, and each band received $1000. They showed it to Dylan, whose song “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” was in two scenes, but Dylan said they couldn’t use it. “He said, ‘Have [Roger] McGuinn do this first part, but you can’t do it after that,’” Fonda told Daily Camera. “I said, ‘But, Bob, any good fight’s a combination of punches.” McGuinn covered Dylan’s song, and Dylan and McGuinn wrote the closing credit song, “The Ballad of Easy Rider,” which was sung by McGuinn, and didn’t have Dylan’s name on it.

4. DENNIS HOPPER CLAIMED TERRY SOUTHERN ONLY CONTRIBUTED THE TITLE.

“Terry Southern never wrote one f*cking word of Easy Rider. Only the title Easy Rider came from him,” Hopper told The Guardian. “He broke his hip; he couldn’t write. I used his office and I dictated the whole f*cking thing in 10 days.”

But Southern saw it in another way. “Peter was to be the actor/producer, Dennis the actor/director, and a certain yours truly, the writer,” Southern told Creative Screenwriting. “After they had seen a couple of screenings of it on the coast, I got a call from Peter. He said that he and Dennis liked the film so much they wanted to be in on the screenplay credits. Well, one of them was the producer and other was the director so there was no way the Writers Guild was going to allow them to take a screenplay credit unless I insisted.” Not listening to the WGA, Southern allowed them to have their credits on the film, which was largely improvised.

However, Fonda had more positive things to say about Southern’s contributions: “He gave us dark humor and a literary panache that Dennis and I did not have,” Fonda told The A.V. Club. “Having him with us as a writer on the script put it above periscope depth. People would say, ‘Wow, Terry Southern co-wrote that. I wonder what that's about?’” All three of them received Oscar nominations for the film’s screenplay.

5. RIP TORN SUED HOPPER OVER THE JACK NICHOLSON ROLE.

As the story goes, in 1967, Rip Torn had dinner with Fonda and Hopper, who were considering casting him in the role of lawyer George Hanson. Hopper went on The Tonight Show in 1994 and recounted how Torn pulled a knife on Hopper during the dinner, thus losing the gig. But Torn said it was the other way around—Hopper pulled the knife on him. (It was supposedly a butter knife.) “Dennis jumped back and knocked Peter on the floor, and I said, ‘There goes the job,’” Torn told The New York Times. Fed up with Hopper ruining his career, Torn sued Hopper for defamation and won almost $1 million.

Bert Schneider, one of film’s executive producers and financiers, then suggested Hopper cast Nicholson as Hanson—as long as he agreed to work for scale, which was $392 per week. “I’ll tell you one thing mister, it was the best $392 I ever spent,” Fonda said at the AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute To Jack Nicholson banquet.

6. NICHOLSON KNEW THE MOVIE WOULD BE A HIT.

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In an interview with Film Comment, the interviewer asked Nicholson if he knew the film would be a hit, and he said yes. “Bob [Rafelson] and I were involved in writing Head when Dennis and Peter brought in a 12-page treatment,” Nicholson said. “I felt it would be a successful movie right then. Because of my background with Roger Corman, I knew that my last motorcycle movie had done $6 to $8 million from a budget of less than half-a-million. I thought the moment for the biker film had come, especially if the genre was moved one step away from exploitation toward some kind of literary quality.”

Before Easy Rider, Hopper had starred in a biker movie called The Glory Stompers, Fonda did the Corman movie The Wild Angels, and Nicholson acted in Hells Angels on Wheels.

7. THE “WE BLEW IT" LINE WAS FILMED AFTER THE MOVIE WRAPPED.

Near the end of the film, Wyatt and Billy sit around a campfire, and Wyatt’s excited about how rich they are. Wyatt looks into the fire and utters, “You know Billy, we blew it,” which foreshadows the ending, though is also open to interpretation. “It was two weeks after we wrapped the movie, we realized we didn’t have the last campfire scene,” Fonda told Daily Camera. “So we assembled the crew and went into the Santa Monica Mountains—if you don’t light it, you can’t see the difference—and we said we’re in Florida.”

Hopper and Fonda argued about the dialogue. “He wanted me to say all this stuff about how we blew our inheritance, we messed up our heritage ... We were elevating the level of our conversation.” Fonda wanted to mumble his line in a Warren Beatty way, and Hopper was at first against the idea, but once they filmed the scene Hopper was amenable.

“Lots of people have asked me over the years, ‘What did you mean by ‘we blew it’?’” Fonda said. “And I say, ‘Look out the window. If you don’t think we’ve blown it, you’ve got to take a closer look.’”

8. FONDA TRIED TO GET HOPPER FIRED BEFORE THE MOVIE WAS EVEN WRITTEN.

Schneider and Rafelson created The Monkees and used that money to fund the film. They gave Hopper $20,000 to do some preliminary shooting in New Orleans, and if they liked what they saw, they would give him more money to shoot the entire thing. Hopper filmed the NOLA scenes using Bolex 16mm cameras, which gave the movie a psychedelic sheen. “Peter and Bill Hayward are recording me,” Hopper told Interview Magazine. “Every time I turn around they’re filming me—and I’m not sure why—but I’m saying things like, ‘We’re going to win Cannes, man! We’re young! We’re going to take our energy and our strength and we’re going to take this thing all the way! Just trust me and do what I’m saying! Nobody shoot any film until I tell them to!’ I mean, we were all in open fights with one another at the time. I didn’t find this out until Bert called me into his office after the movie was released, but Peter and Bill apparently wanted to pay him back the money he’d given us for Easy Rider and fire me. This is Peter and my brother-in-law, okay? This is before we’ve written a screenplay.”

Schneider didn’t care about the footage and told the guys, “Well, Hopper sounds really excited. He says he’s going to win Cannes. That sounds like a hell of an idea.” And of course the movie ended up winning a Best First Work award at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival, where it was also nominated for the Palme d’Or.

9. FONDA AND HOPPER HAD A FALLING OUT OVER MONEY.

The actors clashed over writing credits and how Southern’s money should be split between the men. When Southern left the project, Fonda gave a percentage of Southern’s money to the production company and Hopper’s brother-in-law, Bill Hayward, who was an associate producer on the film. This made Hopper feel like Fonda cheated him. “I just think that [Hopper] was so caught up in his own megalomania and his own bitterness that he couldn't see that I treated him quite fairly and that I respected his genius and his work,” Fonda told The Independent.

Unfortunately, Hopper held a grudge until the day he died, in 2010. “Well, I knew that Dennis was dying and I made many attempts to see Dennis as did Bert Schneider,” Fonda said. “But he refused to see us. The funeral service was in a chapel in Taos, New Mexico. I rented a private jet and flew in, but I was not allowed in the chapel. So as much as I wanted to pay my respects, to Dennis and his family, I was not allowed to be a part of it.”

10. FONDA’S FAMOUS DAD DIDN’T UNDERSTAND THE MOVIE.

The esteemed Henry Fonda saw a screening of his son’s film. “I had him come down and look at an early cut,” the younger Fonda told Daily Camera. “We had to get Dennis out of the room to get it below four hours. My dad watched it and then I went over the next day to his house. He was very serious. He said, ‘Look son, I know you have all your eggs in this basket. And I’m worried about it because the film is inaccessible. We don’t see where you’re going and why? I just don’t think many people will get it.’ Even after [it was successful] he thought I was just a loose cannon, until he worked for me for one day.”

11. YOU CAN PAY TO TAKE THE EASY RIDER BIKE TOUR.

If you like riding motorcycles, have 15 days to spare, and about $4301 to $7710 burning a hole in your pocket, sign up for the Easy Rider Motorcycle Tour. The 2589-mile path ventures to some of the movie’s real filming locations, from L.A. to Death Valley to Colorado to New Orleans. According to the tour’s website, they’ve worked with Sony Pictures in authenticating the locales. “The Easy Rider Movie Tour will have you living the dream you have been waiting to experience since the first time you saw the movie,” reads the summary.

12. AN ORIGINAL CAPTAIN AMERICA MOTORCYCLE SOLD FOR $1.35 MILLION.

There’s been much dispute over who designed and built the four Harley-Davidson motorcycles, a.k.a. choppers, used in the movie. Cliff Vaughs said he did it, but Peter Fonda said he designed the sketches and built them: “I built the motorcycles that I rode and Dennis rode. I bought four of them from Los Angeles Police Department.” Vaughs worked on the movie for about a month before being fired, therefore his name doesn’t appear in the credits. Three of the bikes were stolen, and the final one was destroyed in the film’s finale but was later restored. Fonda gave the bike to actor Dan Haggerty, who eventually sold it to a collector named Michael Eisenberg. In October 2014, Profiles in History auctioned off the bike; the bike sold to an anonymous winner for $1.35 million and became the most expensive motorcycle in the world.

13. IN 2012, AN EASY RIDER SEQUEL WAS MADE.

Phil Pitzer, an Ohio lawyer and producer, realized the sequel rights to Easy Rider were available, so in 2007 he sued Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider to prevent them from claiming they owned the rights. Pitzer won the case and moved forward with the sequel. The original title was Easy Rider: Scarlet Cross, but he changed the title to Easy Rider: The Ride Back. Unlike the first film, the sequel went straight to DVD and didn’t make a dent in American culture.

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NASA / Harrison H. Schmitt
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Space
The 12 Men Who Walked on the Moon
NASA / Harrison H. Schmitt
NASA / Harrison H. Schmitt

If you were born after the Apollo program, and maybe even if you remember those days, it seems almost unbelievable that NASA sent manned missions to the moon 239,000 miles away. People continue to express sadness at the fact that the Apollo lunar missions were so long ago, and that soon there will be no one left alive who actually went to the moon. Today, Alan Bean—the fourth man to walk on the moon and the last surviving member of the Apollo 12 mission—passed away at the age of 86. Which makes it the perfect time to remember—or get to know—the only 12 people who ever walked on a body other than planet Earth.

1. NEIL ALDEN ARMSTRONG

Navy test pilot, engineer, and Korean War veteran Neil Armstrong left the Navy in 1952, but continued in the Naval Reserve. He worked as an experimental test pilot for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) beginning in 1955, which evolved into NASA. Armstrong was assigned as an astronaut in 1962, and flew on the Gemini 8 mission in 1966, where he performed the first successful space docking procedure. Armstrong was selected to be the first man to walk on the moon, as the Apollo 11 mission was planned, for several reasons: he was the commander of the mission, he didn't have a big ego, and the door of the lunar lander was on his side. Although the first steps on the moon are what he will always be known for, Armstrong considered the mission's biggest accomplishment was landing the lunar module. He later said,

Pilots take no special joy in walking: pilots like flying. Pilots generally take pride in a good landing, not in getting out of the vehicle.

Armstrong along with his crew were honored with parades, awards, and acclaim after their return to Earth, but Armstrong always gave credit to the entire NASA team for the Apollo moon missions. He resigned from NASA in 1971 and became a professor of of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati for eight years. Armstrong served on the boards of many corporations and foundations, but gradually withdrew from publicity tours and autograph signings. He didn't particularly care for fame.

Neil Armstrong died on August 25, 2012, at age 82. His family released a statement that concluded:

“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”

2. EDWIN "BUZZ" ALDRIN

After graduating third in his class at West Point in 1951 with a degree in science, Buzz Aldrin flew 66 combat missions as an Air Force pilot in the Korean War. Then he earned a PhD at MIT. Aldrin joined NASA as an astronaut in 1963. In 1966 he flew in the Gemini 12 spacecraft on the final Gemini mission.

Aldrin accompanied Neil Armstrong on the first moon landing in the Apollo 11 mission, becoming the second person, and now the first of the living astronauts, to set foot on the moon. Aldrin had taken a home Communion kit with him, and took Communion on the lunar surface, but did not broadcast the fact. Aldrin retired from NASA in 1971 and from the Air Force in 1972. He later suffered from clinical depression and wrote about the experience, but recovered with treatment. Aldrin has co-authored five books about his experiences and the space program, plus two novels. Aldrin, who is now 88 years old, continues to work to promote space exploration.

3. CHARLES "PETE" CONRAD

Pete Conrad was a Princeton graduate and Navy test pilot before entering the astronaut corps in 1962. He flew on the Gemini V mission and was commander of Gemini XI. Conrad was commander of the Apollo 12 mission, launched during a lightning storm which temporarily knocked out the command module's power shortly after liftoff. When Conrad stepped onto the moon, he said,

Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me.

Conrad later flew on the Skylab 2 mission as commander with the first crew to board the space station. He retired from NASA and the Navy in 1973, after which he worked for American Television and Communications Company and then for McDonnell Douglas.

Pete Conrad died on July 8, 1999 in a motorcycle accident. He was 69.

4. ALAN L. BEAN

Apollo astronaut Alan Bean was the fourth man to walk on the moon, during the Apollo 12 mission in 1969. He was the lunar module pilot. Bean was also the commander of the Skylab Mission II in 1973, which spent 59 days in flight. Altogether, Bean logged 1,671 hours and 45 minutes in space. Bean is the only artist to have visited another world, so his paintings of the lunar environment have the authenticity of an eyewitness. He retired from the Navy with the rank of Captain, but continued to train astronauts at NASA until 1981, when he retired to devote time to his art.

Bean died on May 26, 2018 at the age of 86.

5. ALAN SHEPARD

Alan Shepard was a bona-fide space pioneer who cemented his spot in history long before the Apollo program. A U.S. Navy test pilot, he was selected as one of the original Mercury astronauts in 1959. Shepard was the first American launched into space aboard the Freedom 7 spacecraft on May 5, 1961. His suborbital flight reached an altitude of 116 miles.

Barred from flight during the Gemini program because of an inner ear problem, Shepard had the problem fixed surgically and was assigned as commander of the Apollo 14 mission to the moon. He was responsible for the most accurate lunar module landing ever, and spent 9 hours and 17 minutes exploring the moon's surface outside the module. During that time, he famously knocked a couple of golf balls with a six-iron attached to his sample-collecting tool. With one arm (due to the space suit), he managed to drive further than professional golfers on Earth could ever hope to, thanks to the moon's lower gravity.

Before and after his Apollo mission, Shepard served as Chief of the Astronaut Office. He retired from NASA and the Navy in 1974, having achieved the rank of Rear Admiral. Shepard went into private business, serving on the board of several corporations and foundations. He founded Seven Fourteen Enterprises, an umbrella corporation named after his two space missions. Shepard wrote a book with Deke Slayton, Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon. Shepard compared his book to The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe, saying, "'We wanted to call ours 'The Real Stuff,' since his was just fiction.''

Alan Shepard died on July 21, 1998 at the age of 74.

6. EDGAR D. MITCHELL

Ed Mitchell joined the Navy in 1952 and became a test pilot. Then he earned a PhD in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT. NASA selected him for the astronaut corps in 1966. In January of 1971, Mitchell flew on Apollo 14 as lunar module pilot, becoming the sixth man to walk on the lunar surface. He retired in 1972 and founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences, which explores psychic and paranormal events. Mitchell gained some notoriety after NASA for his views on UFOs, as he has asserted that the government is covering up evidence at Roswell. His information, he admitted, came secondhand from various sources.

Mitchell died on February 4, 2016, the eve of the 45th anniversary of his lunar landing.

7. DAVID RANDOLPH SCOTT

David Scott joined the Air Force after graduating from West Point. Selected as an astronaut in 1963, he flew with Neil Armstrong on the Gemini 8 mission and was command module pilot on Apollo 9. Scott then went to the moon on Apollo 15, which landed on the lunar surface on July 30, 1971. It was the first mission to land near mountains. Scott and Jim Irwin spent 18 hours exploring the lunar landscape in the Lunar Roving Vehicle in the first mission to use such a vehicle to travel on the moon.

Scott became famous for the "postage stamp incident," in which he took unauthorized postage stamp covers to the moon with the intent to sell them afterwards. NASA had turned a blind eye to such activities before, but publicity over the matter caused them to discipline Scott and he never flew again. Scott retired from NASA in 1977 and served as a consultant for several movies and TV shows about the space program. He also wrote a book with former cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, Two Sides of the Moon: Our Story of the Cold War Space Race.

David Scott is 85 years old.

8. JAMES B. IRWIN

Air Force test pilot James Irwin became an astronaut in 1966. He was the lunar module pilot for Apollo 15 in 1971. His 18.5 hours of lunar surface exploration included gathering many samples of rocks. The astronauts' medical conditions were being monitored from Earth, and they noticed Irwin developing symptoms of heart trouble. As he was breathing 100% oxygen and under lower gravity than on Earth, mission control decided he was in the best environment possible for such irregularity -under the circumstances. Irwin's heart rhythm was normal by the time Apollo 15 returned to Earth, but he had a heart attack a few months later. Irwin retired from NASA and the Air Force (with the rank of Colonel) in 1972 and founded the High Flight Foundation in order to spread the Christian gospel during the last twenty years of his life. He notably took several groups on expeditions to Mt. Ararat to search for Noah's Ark.

James Irwin died on August 8, 1991, of a heart attack. He was 61 years old.

9. JOHN WATTS YOUNG

John Young is so far the longest serving astronaut in NASA history. He was selected as an astronaut in 1962 and his first space flight was in 1965 aboard Gemini 3 with Gus Grissom. He achieved some notoriety at that time by smuggling a corned beef sandwich onto the flight, angering NASA. But Young went on to complete a total of six space missions in the Gemini, Apollo, and the space shuttle programs. He orbited the moon on the Apollo 10 mission, then was commander of the Apollo 16 mission and became the ninth person to walk on the moon. Young was also commander of the first space shuttle flight in 1981 and returned for shuttle flight 9 in 1983, which deployed the first Spacelab module. Young was also scheduled for another space shuttle flight in 1986, which was delayed after the Challenger disaster, so the veteran astronaut never made his seventh flight. Young finally retired from NASA after 42 years of service in 2004.

John Young died on January 5, 2018 at the age of 87 following complications with pneumonia.

10. CHARLES M. DUKE JR.

Astronaut Charles Duke was capcom during the Apollo 11 mission. His is the voice you recall saying, "Roger, Twank... Tranquility, we copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot!" when the lunar module landed on the moon. Duke also made history by catching German measles while training in the backup crew for the Apollo 13 mission, exposing the crew to the disease and causing Ken Mattingly to be replaced by Jack Swigart on that terrifying spaceflight. Duke went to the moon (with Mattingly as command module pilot) on the Apollo 16 mission in April of 1972. He retired from NASA in 1975 having reached the rank of Brigadier General in the U.S. Air Force, and founded Duke Investments. Duke also became a Christian and a lay minister to prison inmates.

Charles Duke is 82 years old.

11. HARRISON "JACK" SCHMITT

Jack Schmitt was a geologist first, and trained as a pilot only after becoming a NASA astronaut. In fact, he was only the second civilian to fly into space, after Neil Armstrong, who was a veteran at the time of his flights. Schmitt was assigned to fly to the moon on the Apollo 18 mission, but when the Apollo 18 and 19 missions were cancelled in September of 1970, the scientific community lobbied to have Schmitt reassigned to Apollo 17 (replacing Joe Engle) as lunar module pilot. He was the first scientist in outer space. On the Apollo 17 mission, he and Gene Cernan spent three days on the lunar surface (a record) and drove their Lunar Roving Vehicle around collecting samples, conducting experiments, and leaving measuring instruments behind. Schmitt and Cernan gathered 250 pounds of lunar material to take back.

After resigning from NASA in 1975, Schmitt, a Republican, was elected Senator for New Mexico and served from 1977 to 1983. He became an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and lives in Silver City, New Mexico. In recent years, Dr. Schmitt's scientific background and political leanings have kept him in the spotlight as he has said that the concept of climate change is "a red herring," and that environmentalism is linked with communism.

Jack Schmitt is 82 years old.

12. EUGENE E. CERNAN

As a Navy pilot, Gene Cernan logged over 5,000 hours flying time. He was accepted into the astronaut program in 1963. Cernan's first space flight was on Gemini IX in 1966, in which he conducted extravehicular activities (a space walk), followed by the Apollo 10 mission in May of 1969, which orbited the moon. Cernan was assigned commander of the Apollo 17 mission before anyone knew it would be the last Apollo mission. Even after the Apollo program was cut, no one knew for sure that travel to the moon would be abandoned for decades. When Schmitt and Cernan boarded their lunar module for the last time on December 13th, 1972, Cernan said:

"I'm on the surface; and, as I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come — but we believe not too long into the future — I'd like to just [say] what I believe history will record. That America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return: with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17."

Cernan retired from the Navy and from NASA in 1976. He went on to found an aerospace technology firm, and wrote a book about his experiences as an astronaut. He also contributed his talents to ABC-TV as a commentator during shuttle flights and has made appearances on various space specials. In September of 2011, Cernan testified before Congress on the future of the space program.

The space program has never been an entitlement, it's an investment in the future - an investment in technology, jobs, international respect and geo-political leadership, and perhaps most importantly in the inspiration and education of our youth. Those best and brightest minds at NASA and throughout the multitudes of private contractors, large and small, did not join the team to design windmills or redesign gas pedals, but to live their dreams of once again taking us where no man has gone before.

Gene Cernan died on January 16, 2017

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U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
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5 Things You Didn't Know About Sally Ride
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

You know Sally Ride as the first American woman to travel into space. But here are five things you might not know about the astronaut, who was born on this day in 1951.

1. SHE PROVED THERE IS SUCH THING AS A STUPID QUESTION.

When Sally Ride made her first space flight in 1983, she was both the first American woman and the youngest American to make the journey to the final frontier. Both of those distinctions show just how qualified and devoted Ride was to her career, but they also opened her up to a slew of absurd questions from the media.

Journalist Michael Ryan recounted some of the sillier questions that had been posed to Ride in a June 1983 profile for People. Among the highlights:

Q: “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?”
A: “There’s no evidence of that.”

Q: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
A: “How come nobody ever asks (a male fellow astronaut) those questions?"

Forget going into space; Ride’s most impressive achievement might have been maintaining her composure in the face of such offensive questions.

2. SHE MIGHT HAVE BEEN A TENNIS PRO.

When Ride was growing up near Los Angeles, she played more than a little tennis, and she was seriously good at it. She was a nationally ranked juniors player, and by the time she turned 18 in 1969, she was ranked 18th in the whole country. Tennis legend Billie Jean King personally encouraged Ride to turn pro, but she went to Swarthmore instead before eventually transferring to Stanford to finish her undergrad work, a master’s, and a PhD in physics.

King didn’t forget about the young tennis prodigy she had encouraged, though. In 1984 an interviewer playfully asked the tennis star who she’d take to the moon with her, to which King replied, “Tom Selleck, my family, and Sally Ride to get us all back.”

3. HOME ECONOMICS WAS NOT HER BEST SUBJECT.

After retiring from space flight, Ride became a vocal advocate for math and science education, particularly for girls. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, a San Diego-based company that creates fun and interesting opportunities for elementary and middle school students to learn about math and science.

Though Ride was an iconic female scientist who earned her doctorate in physics, just like so many other youngsters, she did hit some academic road bumps when she was growing up. In a 2006 interview with USA Today, Ride revealed her weakest subject in school: a seventh-grade home economics class that all girls had to take. As Ride put it, "Can you imagine having to cook and eat tuna casserole at 8 a.m.?"

4. SHE HAD A STRONG TIE TO THE CHALLENGER.

Ride’s two space flights were aboard the doomed shuttle Challenger, and she was eight months deep into her training program for a third flight aboard the shuttle when it tragically exploded in 1986. Ride learned of that disaster at the worst possible time: she was on a plane when the pilot announced the news.

Ride later told AARP the Magazine that when she heard the midflight announcement, she got out her NASA badge and went to the cockpit so she could listen to radio reports about the fallen shuttle. The disaster meant that Ride wouldn’t make it back into space, but the personal toll was tough to swallow, too. Four of the lost members of Challenger’s crew had been in Ride’s astronaut training class.

5. SHE DIDN'T SELL OUT.

A 2003 profile in The New York Times called Ride one of the most famous women on Earth after her two space flights, and it was hard to argue with that statement. Ride could easily have cashed in on the slew of endorsements, movie deals, and ghostwritten book offers that came her way, but she passed on most opportunities to turn a quick buck.

Ride later made a few forays into publishing and endorsements, though. She wrote or co-wrote more than a half-dozen children’s books on scientific themes, including To Space and Back, and in 2009 she appeared in a print ad for Louis Vuitton. Even appearing in an ad wasn’t an effort to pad her bank account, though; the ad featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Ride with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell gazing at the moon and stars. According to a spokesperson, all three astronauts donated a “significant portion” of their modeling fees to Al Gore’s Climate Project.

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