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What Was It Like to Be the Last Man on the Moon?
published during a waxing gibbous moon.
03/21/2016

 

Last Man on the Moon

Eugene Andrew Cernan in Apollo Lunar Module, is photographed inside the lunar module on the lunar surface following the third (EVA-3) of his mission. Note lunar dust on his suit. Credit: NASA / Harrison Schmitt

When Apollo 17 crewmember, Captain Eugene Cernan, stepped foot on the Moon in 1972, he knew his footsteps would be the last ones for a long time. Now, 45 years later, they’re still imprinted in the fine lunar dust, and Cernan is traveling around the country sharing the story of his remarkable career. Cernan stars in a new film chronicling his final flight into space, one that culminated with the ultimate prize–a stroll on the lunar surface. The film, The Last Man on The Moon, was released in theaters on February 26th and is now available to stream on Amazon Video.

Last Man on the Moon

The film begins with Cernan’s recruitment by NASA to enter their shiny new space program. Cernan was the perfect candidate because of his background in the Navy, where he routinely took extreme risks landing fighter jets on aircraft carriers. Thus, it’s not surprising that he was up for the most dangerous job in the world.

By the time Cernan walked on the moon, he was already a seasoned astronaut. He completed the longest spacewalk during the Gemini 9 mission. After the end of the Gemini program, Cernan was asked to join the Apollo team. The Apollo mission was a new space program that would take American astronauts to the moon by the end of the 1960’s. For Apollo 10, Cernan’s goal (along with crew members Thomas Stafford and John Young) was to demonstrate how the Apollo 11 crew would land on the moon without actually landing on the moon. The crew performed every single docking and undocking maneuver to prove that the mission design worked. This wildly successful mission set the stage for the famous Apollo 11 lunar landing.

Despite the film being only about one man, the filmmaker used Cernan as a medium by which to transport the audience into another era. The vintage NASA footage is spectacular. It’s hard to believe that shots like these even exist, but they do, and effectively serve as a time machine. The 35 mm film stock from deep in the NASA archives is truly the magical element of this film; for a short time, we are part of the crew as they walk down the gangway towards the Saturn V.

The film is no doubt a reminder of the glory days of the space race. It also serves to demonstrate the many challenges that come with creating a space program. Surprisingly the film served as an exciting education in space history just as much an account of Gene Cernan’s personal journey.

Last Man on the Moon

In December of 1972, Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent about 75 hours on the Moon in the Taurus–Littrow valley. Near the beginning of their third and final excursion across the lunar surface, Schmitt took this picture of Cernan flanked by an American flag and their lunar rover’s umbrella-shaped high-gain antenna. The prominent Sculptured Hills lie in the background while Schmitt’s reflection can just be made out in Cernan’s helmet. NASA / Harrison H. Schmitt

At 82 years young, Captain Cernan seems that he’s ready to examine where he’s come from, even if that means looking at the rough patches. His journey is mostly a feel-good one, but the film doesn’t shy away from addressing his lost marriage and years away from his daughter. The film ultimately reveals that life as an Apollo astronaut didn’t allow for much of a work/life balance. After decades of being out of the limelight, Cernan’s hindsight has clearly humbled him. Seeing the emotional turmoil experienced by his family and his crew’s families offers another perspective on the romantic lifestyle of a successful spaceman.

While Cernan is technically retired, he still hits the road pretty regularly to visit conferences and meet potential astronaut candidates. He has recently turned his eyes from the Moon to the Red Planet, and champions humans going to Mars. He hopes that by sharing his experience as a moonwalker, he will inspire Congress and the public to invest in the next step of human space exploration.

For anyone who is even remotely interested in space, space history, or exploration of any kind, this film is not to be missed. It’s not every day that the general public has the chance to get up close and personal with any astronaut–let alone one who’s walked on the Moon. Spending an hour and a half with Gene Cernan was a treat. In these times of political turmoil and uncertainty about where our species is headed, it’s refreshing to be reminded of a unique moment in time when everyone united in the thrill of discovery.