Recognizing the Last Man on the Moon, A Documentary

1 Mar

By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

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Andy Kaufman is not the only man on the moon. His fame is different though. In the movie The Last Man on the Moon, director Mark Craig recognizes Captain Eugene “Gene” Cernan, the last person who stepped foot upon that ball of luminous glory we see in the sky, waxing and waning in a regular cycle. Some lunar observers say it can influence people’s emotions. In this documentary’s case, it’s the feelings Cernan had in achieving his dreams. He was one of twelve men to be selected to be part of NASA‘s Apollo Space Program (1961 – 1975).

This film is a very personal one for Cernan. These days, he spends his time directing projects to further space exploration and he attends shows to inspire new generations to fly to the moon, but when or if that will happen will depend on NASA getting off their collective ass. These days, perhaps inspired by the movie The Martian, the goal is to reach Mars instead of figuring out a way to establish a lunar colony.

Wherever humanity is headed, this feature-length product is certainly sentimental. It not only concisely looks at Cernan’s life but also examines the program from its infancy to growth through interviews with fellow Apollo and Gemini astronauts, NASA crew, and their families. In Cernan’s case, this film nicely looks at how his family is affected. I can’t help but be reminded of the movie Interstellar because of what he left behind. Quite often, the story is not complete unless both sides of the issue are looked at. Like the film, does the child (Murphy) grow bitter because the father would rather explore new worlds instead of being there for her? She seems to have handled herself quite well without a papa, but in the real life case, Gene was mostly an absent father and husband. He was not there to watch his kid grow up.

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Eventually, his first wife, Barbara wanted a divorce. This film could have gone deeper to explore all the emotional issues members of the Astronauts Wives Club faced, but had it did, this movie would have been a different product. Instead of dwelling on the negative, all the positive is considered — namely in revealing how Cernan admits to his mistakes. He remarried, and his present wife Jan does not have to worry as much since he keeps active elsewhere, and not necessarily dealing with NASA directly. He’s the Chairman of the Board of Johnson Engineering Corporation, which provides NASA with Flight Crew Systems Development and supports NASA in the design of crew stations for Space Shuttle, Spacelab, Space Station, Lunar Base and Mars Outposts. In what he’s directing, they are not necessarily as time-consuming as being in training.

He can be a family man. He’s come to appreciate his new family and still be close to his daughter from his first marriage. He’s admitted to his mistakes, and the notes he makes in this documentary are all the more poignant. He also reveals a few of his regrets, and unlike the movies which fictionalizes the emotional toll some families can face, one of his fitting tributes to his daughter was to etch her initials on a large rock on the moon (known as Tracy’s Rock). Not many kids can say they have a piece of rock on another planetoid dedicated to them, and since then, that badge of honour will always remain cool for those who love space exploration. At least for future space explorers, although the chance is gone in missions planned to Mars and Pluto, perhaps another mission can send people’s names to Neptune or beyond. Sorry Uranus, but to boldly go there where no man has gone before, especially there, sounds like a bad joke in the making.

4 Stars out of 5

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