Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Last Man on the Moon


“If you begin to think you're something you're not, you're looking in the wrong mirror.” - Eugene Cernan

I have been watching the Mark Craig directed documentary, Last Man on the Moon (2014). It is great educational entertainment for an Apollo junkie like me. It describes the career path of Eugene (Gene) Cernan as he was transformed from a Navy aircraft carrier, jet pilot to an astronaut during the heyday of lunar exploration from the time of the Gemini missions and right up to the last Apollo mission. The title of the movie comes from the fact that Cernan is the last person to have stood on the surface of the moon which was on December 14, 1972, more than 42 years ago.

Cernan is fascinating. He is both ordinary and extraordinary. He is an ordinary citizen with a Texas Longhorn cattle ranch who enjoys watching a good Texas rodeo. He is an outspoken proponent of space exploration who believes that America has lost something important by not returning to the moon since he last set foot there.

“After Apollo 17, America stopped looking towards the next horizon. The United States had become a space-faring nation, but threw it away. We have sacrificed space exploration for space exploitation, which is interesting but scarcely visionary.”

He believes that humanity as a whole needs a greater degree of curiosity and pioneering ambition. He suggests that we need to ask questions about who we are and our place in the universe.

“Curiosity is the essence of human existence. 'Who are we? Where are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going?'... I don't know. I don't have any answers to those questions. I don't know what's over there around the corner. But I want to find out.”

I may be a bit of a product of my own generation (I was 9 years old when Apollo 11 landed on the moon) but I tend to agree with Cernan. We do need more pioneering spirit; we do need more curiosity; we should be looking toward the next horizon. Ordinary people can do extraordinary things when the horizon is just one goal before reaching toward the next goal. Horizon after horizon after horizon will allow anyone to encircle the earth. Gene Cernan is also very practical and does not see himself as special. He says that, “People try to typecast astronauts as heroic and superhuman. We're only human beings.” May we and all of humanity be as ordinary as Gene Cernan.

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