Monday, September 24, 2007

In the Shadow of the Moon

I saw the documentary "In the Shadow of the Moon" yesterday at our local art house movie theatre, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Cutting between interviews with the now (mostly) septuagenarian astronauts and contemporary TV and film footage of the Apollo missions, the film covers missions 1, 8, and 11 and more detail. Most people recall, if they are old enough, that Apollo 1 never launched, the crew killed in a "plugs-out" test weeks before the scheduled lift-off. Apollo 8 was the first manned flight to the moon and the origin of the famous "Earthrise" photograph so extensively reproduced and written about. And Apollo 11 was the first moon landing, the first time a human being walked on a world other than earth.

The film's website is greatly interactive, filled with information about the astronauts, the Apollo missions, and a moon gallery.

Towards the end of the film, the astronauts talked more about what it felt like to see the earth from space and most of the commentary is one of wonder and awe. Edgar Mitchell recalls his experience of feeling as if all was one: the earth, the moon, the spacecraft, himself. Mitchell came down to earth and translated his experience of "oneness" into the creation of the Institute of Noetic Science, an organization in Northern California that sponsors research into human potential and consciousness. Other astronauts had experiences in space that can be categorized as religious but this aspect of the space flight experience is rather downplayed in the film.

I have a particular fondness for the Apollo program, not just because the idea of traveling to the moon caught my childhood imagination (it did and so began my lifelong love of science fiction) but because it's the reason I became a scientist. When I was in the fourth grade (age 10-11) I was chosen, along with a handful of other kids, to participate in an after school enrichment program. The initial program, as I recall, was about space: we studied astronomy and the biographies of early rocket scientists (like Goddard and Braun). I remember distinctly reading about the discovery of the solar system planets and the astronomers who discovered them. This was the same year, 1968, that Apollo 8 sent back the first "Earthrise" photographs, and it was the beginning of my life in science. While I went into the biological sciences in college and afterwards, it was astronomy that first caught my attention as a kid; and all of that is thanks to that after school program at Loma Vista Elementary school in Maywood, California.

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