Review by Chris Starr, June 2014
Members of the Wells and Mendip Astronomers travelled up to Yorkshire for the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival last weekend to watch the first public screening in the UK of Mark Stewart Productions’ ‘The Last Man on the Moon’, a feature-length documentary on the early days of manned spaceflight and the Apollo Moon missions as they were experienced by Captain Eugene ‘Gene’ Cernan, Apollo 17 Commander, the last person so far to have walked on the lunar surface.
In this beautifully crafted film, directed by Mark Craig, Cernan, his family, friends and former colleagues reflect on the aspirations, tragedies and triumphs of the US space programme. The film treats the subjects of family, friendship, ambition, dedication and loss with a rare sensitivity. It is Cernan’s story – that of a boy from a modest background with a burning desire to become a pilot, who went on to fly three space missions, two of them to the Moon – but it is also the broader story of an extraordinary period in human exploration. The film is tinged with regret, too, that the inspiration and achievements of those heady Apollo years were not fully built on. Cernan’s generation was given the opportunity to push back the bounds of the imagination and of what was technically possible.
But, despite the title of the film (also the title of his autobiography, published in 1999), he doesn’t consider himself to be the ‘last man on the Moon’, but simply the last of the Apollo astronauts to go there. "Too many years have passed for me to still be the last man to have left his footprints on the Moon. I believe with all my heart that somewhere out there is a young boy or girl with indomitable will and courage who will lift that dubious distinction from my shoulders and take us back where we belong. Let us give that dream a chance."
After the screening, Captain Cernan, in the UK to help promote the film, answered questions from the audience. The ultimate hero in the public imagination and a renowned international speaker and ambassador for space exploration, Cernan remains humble and very approachable. He is a passionate advocate for education and keen to talk to young people, the next generation of space explorers. His message is simple. Don’t settle for mediocrity. No matter what path we may follow and whatever we undertake, no matter how humble our goals or tasks, we should always strive to do them as well as we can. And, ultimately, even the unattainable can be reached if the will to do so is there. As he says, 'Dream the impossible then make it happen. That’s what we did' .
Image courtesy of NASA