It’s a rare and humbling thing to shake hands with a man that has stepped foot on the lunar surface. Greeting Gene Cernan – Navy pilot, Gemini Astronaut, Apollo Commander – one is struck by his slight yet taut frame. His hands seem larger than the rest of him, as if a lifetime of wrestling with control sticks and riding horses has somehow expanded them. They’re like boxer’s hands on the body of a runner. I was but six-months old when Cernan’s moon mission took place, and though he’s now 81 years old, I have no doubt that he could absolutely kick my ass.
Cernan is the subject of Marg Craig’s documentary Last Man on the Moon, and was in Toronto to discuss the film as part of The Bloor Cinema/HotDocs’ “Doc Soup” series. Our conversation was wide ranging and at times deeply moving, as it’s clear that the normally taciturn nature of macho test pilots softens with age, allowing for nostalgia to finally creep into their discourse.
We spoke of the drama and poetry of landing on the moon, about the many accidents (some tragic, some fortuitous) that helped shaped his life and career. We also spoke of some of the intangibles of space exploration, and how these ephemeral elements are precisely why humans and not simply robotic drones are called upon to explore the outer reaches of where we can travel.
In this first clip, Cernan expresses the frustration he feels at not having the words to express just how it felt to be on the moon:
The film took Cernan back to places he didn’t necessarily want to remember, including his witnessing of the deaths of close friends and colleagues:
Cernan on travelling as fast as any human has ever travelled:
Director Mark Craig and Gene Cernan on the two notable absences in the film – Buzz Aldrin and Cernan’s module-mate Jack Schmitt.
And finally, the full interview, where we delve into Cernan’s rich career as seen through Craig’s lens: