In the Shadow of the Moon
In the far-flung span of human history, only twelve men have ever stepped on the surface of another celestial body. And yet, somehow we have managed to convince ourselves that such acts of mind-boggling ingenuity and stunning heroism are now commonplace.
The new documentary, In the Shadow of the Moon, reminds us all that America's space program is nothing short of astonishing and that humankind's venture into the vast, freezing abyss of outer space is one of the most extraordinary and significant moments in the history of our species. It celebrates the know-how of thousands of engineers and the derring-do of dozens of astronauts who embraced the most audacious act of outlandish genius ever proposed.
In the Shadow of the Moon scoured NASA's film vaults, coming away with a treasure trove of archival footage. Gone are the overused, iconic images so familiar to all of us. The filmmakers digitally re-mastered footage sealed in bins for more than three decades, much of it of such breathtaking quality and magisterial beauty that it is almost unthinkable that it has gone unseen until now.
In the Shadow of the Moon is a shimmering tribute to the brave men who, almost half a century ago, made the unthinkable a reality. Concentrating exclusively on the Apollo Program, the documentary eschews narration and simply lets the film progress through interviews with all of the remaining Apollo astronauts, minus its "team captain" and the first man to set foot on the Moon, the notoriously camera shy Neil Armstrong. Some of the astronauts are staid and stoic, paradigms of professionalism. Others, like Alan Bean and Michael Collins, are fun and animated, like children fresh off an amusement park ride.
These are the coolest guys alive, yet you'd never know it from their unassuming and self-deprecating demeanors. The space program comes to life through their humanizing reminiscences. They admit, through voices that occasionally crack with emotion, that they often have to pinch themselves to make sure it wasn't all a dream. "I called the moon my home for three days of my life," says Gene Cernan. "Now that's science fiction!"
The film traces the space race from its earliest birth pains to its most magnificent triumphs. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy set an impossibly audacious goal before the American people: send a man to the Moon and return him safely back to Earth before the close of the decade. Tragically, Kennedy never lived to see his inspirational words plucked from the air and fashioned into the steel, wiring and propellant that would, just eight years later, send us racing into lunar orbit and beyond.
It's not as if there was any sort of guarantee that the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) would be successful. Kennedy's national dare was the stuff of science fiction. Placing a man on top of a giant rocket sounded ludicrous at the time. "It was a quick way to have a short career," Jim Lovell recalls.
The astronaut corps was cobbled together from daredevil test pilots always on the lookout for new ways to go faster, higher, further. Engineers using slide rules and legal pads went to work designing and building the most sophisticated machines ever constructed. Nothing close to this had ever been attempted, and the intrepid scientists had no choice but to blaze a new, uncharted frontier.