Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Last Man on the Moon

It's difficult in these days of national unease to recall the excited optimism once generated by the space program. The Last Man on the Moon, a documentary from British filmmaker Mark Craig, not only brings back some of the elevated enthusiasm of days that included the first moon walk, but adds significant personal poignancy. That's because Craig's film is also a bio-pic about astronaut Eugene Cernan, the last man to set foot on the moon. In some ways, Cernan's story serves as mournful ode to a program that once buoyed the country, bolstering pride and optimism and even creating a sense of wonder. Cernan made his moon walk in 1972; he was the 12th man to walk on the moon; famously, he wrote his daughter's initials on the moon's dusty surface. It was Cernan's second trip to the moon. In 1969, he had traveled to the moon in a test that preceded the first lunar landing. Two months later, Neil Armstrong would take his legendary giant leap for mankind. Last Man on the Moon doesn't present Cernan, now 81, as a polished hero. He talks about the way his jaunty ego and self-centered ambition caused him to neglect his family; he expresses sorrow over the decline of the space program and recalls the disaster when three astronauts died in a launch-pad fire on an Apollo mission. Some of the early parts of the film evoke memories of Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff as we learn how skilled fighter pilots were transformed into astronauts. A combination of personal sacrifice and global achievement make The Last Man on the Moon more than exercise in nostalgia; it's a call to listen to our better angels and once again look toward the stars. I hope we listen.

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