In the Shadow of the Moon


First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him back safely to the earth.

The Apollo missions to the moon were a big part of my childhood. One of my earliest memories involves the launch of Apollo 12 when I was four. Among my more prized possessions is a big hardcover book entitled “Apollo Expeditions to the Moon,” the official NASA history of the program. Naturally, I have movies like The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, plus HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon, in my DVD collection.

You wouldn’t think that there was much that this British documentary could tell me about the subject, but you would be wrong. By focusing on the human experience of the twelve men who actually walked on the surface of another world, In the Shadow of the Moon has something genuinely fresh to say about the greatest adventure of the twentieth century.

This film is deceptively simple in its structure, consisting solely of interviews with ten of the Apollo astronauts over NASA archival footage, much of it seen for the first time here. While the footage is of great interest, it is what this unique fraternity of men has to say that make In the Shadow of the Moon indispensible. Speaking in a relaxed, unguarded manner, men like Buzz Aldrin, Jim Lovell and Alan Bean managed to convey an experience without parallel in our lives in terms that we can all appreciate.

Noticeably absent is Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, who has not had much of a public profile since briefly becoming the most famous man on the planet. Fortunately, those who did choose to participate, especially Aldrin, Bean and Lovell, are eloquent and personable enough to make his absence a non-issue.

Of particular interest to me was Bean and Aldrin’s description of feeling the massive Saturn V rocket balancing on its engines as it struggled into the sky. Also, there was one astronaut, I think it was Edgar Mitchell, talking about how there were two moons for him, the one in the sky that we all see and the one he visited. It’s these very human descriptions that give this movie a fresh relevance that I was not expecting.

If I may offer an aside, one thing that is impossible to escape is the fact that the fraternity of Apollo astronauts is not a young one. Many of them are pushing eighty and we have lost some, including Alan Shepherd and Pete Conrad. It isn’t inconceivable that, before long, we could once again live in the world in which I was born, in which no living human being has walked on the moon. Perhaps worse, it could be a world in which the only living lunar explorers are not Americans. I would rather that not happen.

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