Sunday, June 19, 2016

If You Think Going To The Moon Is Hard, You Ought To Try Staying Home

by Drew Martin
When my parents came over today to celebrate Father's Day I asked my dad about his applying to be an astronaut back in the late 1960s. He had wanted to be a scientist astronaut but said he was turned down because he had not yet completed his Ph.D. in nuclear physics. My mom thought it was because of a varicose vein found in his leg during the rigorous physical exam. Either way, he stayed home (on Earth) and raised a family and was/is a great father.

Yesterday, I finished watching The Last Man on the Moon about Gene Cernan, who was the pilot for the Gemini 9A mission, during which he did one of the first space walks, in June of 1966. He was also the lunar module pilot of Apollo 10 (the first Apollo mission, which orbited the moon at a low altitude but did not land) in May of 1969. And he was the commander of Apollo 17 in December 1972. Originally there were supposed to be ten Apollo missions but the program was shortened to seven flights so Cernan became the last man to walk (and drive) on the moon.

Most of the documentaries I have seen about the United States space program focus on the missions but this film is much more reflective and contemplative, and Cernan is obliging to share his experiences. He does talk about the bravado and ego of his fellow astronauts but there is much thought given to the lives of the families of the men, including his not being around a lot for his daughter, and this absenteeism and self-centered personality that led to his divorce from his first wife (pictured above on the ground) who sums up the tensions and frustrations with a zinger of a line, "If you think going to the moon is hard, you ought to try staying home."

It is a bittersweet tale but the overall positive tone to the documentary is about the phenomenal achievements that happened at NASA during the Apollo missions and the profound feeling of being on the moon and seeing the Earth, which Cernan tries to relay to everyone he meets.