A documentary looking at the life of astronaut Eugene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17 and the last human being to set foot on the moon – for now.
Shockingly, the gap between now and 1972’s final Apollo mission to the moon is roughly the same amount of time between then and the Wall Street crash. With the first generation of astronauts dying at a scary rate, the heroic period of space exploration is falling fast into history – so it’s valuable when a film like this documents the testimony of Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan.
The monomania required to ride a bomb into space didn’t exactly make for a stable family life.
The tricky part in evaluating Apollo docs, though, is that the material is so inherently awesome (in the proper sense of the word) that your average nine-year-old with iMovie on their phone could make something cracking out of the footage available. The Last Man On The Moon distinguishes itself by focusing not on the procedural (For All Mankind is definitive for that) or a survey of the impact of the experience on the Apollo astronauts’ lives (check out In The Shadow Of The Moon), but by digging deep into Cernan’s life and examining the meeting between the titanic quest of actually going to the moon and more domestic, earthbound concerns, it finds a fresh approach.
Across extensive interviews, Cernan is frank about the human cost of NASA’s frenetic drive to the moon. The deaths of the Apollo 1 astronauts on the launchpad are well-known, but he ruefully points out it took the 1966 deaths of two Project Gemini astronauts in a plane crash to bump him (and others) up the roster. He’s also frank about how the relentless monomania required to essentially ride a bomb into space didn’t exactly make for a stable family life: his marriage collapsed, and his relationship with his daughter was far from easy. It’s easy to fall into cliché and get highfalutin when it comes to Apollo; this excellent film brings a rare dose of clarity over its impact on the people involved. Even so, when asked if it was worth it, you can guess Cernan’s response.
Given the wealth of footage available, you can’t really go wrong with docs on the Apollo era – and yet amongst all that, Cernan is compellingly frank about the human costs of spaceflight.