In 1961, when President John F. Kennedy challenged the nation to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, the Russians had already successfully placed Yuri Gagarin in outer space and were well ahead of the United States in extra-terrestrial exploration.

Since that day, a total of twelve men have walked in space. They were: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, David Scott, James Irwin, John Young, Charles Duke, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt. Four of the twelve have since passed on: Armstrong, Conrad, Irwin, and Shepard.


Apollo 11 AstronautsCredit: Google

                                                                    Apollo 11 Astronauts

In “The Wonder of it All,” Director Jeffrey Roth focuses on the human side of the men behind the Apollo missions through the candid accounts of seven Apollo Astronauts: Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Eugene Cernan, Charles Duke, Edgar Mitchell, Harrison Schmitt and John Young. They each recount how the experience of traveling through space affected them and their families at the time and later on in their lives.

Astronauts are required to train for 18 months. The men who trained had no guarantee that they would fly but they would be working in some capacity on the Apollo mission. Since that heavenly body's orbit around the Earth is elliptical, its closest approach (its perigee) is approximately 225,623 miles. At its farthest point (its apogee), the moon is probably 252,088 miles away. The point where Apollo 11 planned to land was 240,000 miles from the Earth. Apollo missions took about three days to reach their destination.

They knew there were risks involved. Eight astronauts were killed before anyone had even flown in space. Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were killed during a pre-launch test for the Apollo 1 mission. They were all aware that they were experimenting with a new technology. To be a part of the space program was the ultimate job for a test pilot.

                                                           Spacecraft LaunchCredit: Google                  

                                                                      Spacecraft Launch

The target for the first moon landing, Apollo 11, was the Sea of Tranquillity. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the pioneers who first alit after leaving the lunar module “Eagle,” while Michael Collins, the pilot, stayed in the mothership “Columbia,” waiting in fear for their safe return. Because of the awkward conditions of 1/6th gravity on the moon, the moonwalkers lost their footing and fell a few times. Charlie Duke related that he brought a picture of his family and left it there in a plastic bag. As far as he knows, it is still on the surface today. Eugene Cernan stated “When it came time to leave, I wanted to stop the clock. I wanted to stop time and savor the moment.” Alan Bean said that coming home from a successful lunar landing “made me satisfied with my life for the rest of my life.”

The astronauts were not just tourists taking pictures; they were also field scientists and geologists collecting rocks and specimens. There was little time to reflect on their once-in-a-lifetime experience. Most of them came from typical families, played high school sports, excelled in engineering or the sciences, served in the military, became skilled pilots, and somehow managed to get on the list for potential Apollo astronauts. They never thought of themselves as heroes. But when asked if they knew they were making history, the typical response was yes, but they didn’t think of it at the time. We know, though, that in setting foot on another piece of the world, they have forever changed the way earthlings view themselves.

                                           Astronaut on the MoonCredit: Google   

                                                                    Astronaut on the Moon

I can easily recall the first landing on July 20, 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left the lunar module. Our family was invited to a beach party held by a group of friends so that we could all experience the event while being together. I remember the day vividly and each one’s reactions as we heard and saw history being made before our eyes.

This documentary is a priceless piece of the past which should be shown to high school seniors throughout the country. The event should not be allowed to fade away. As Eugene Cernan pointed out in the film, the fact that we succeeded in walking on the moon in the late 60’s and early 70’s is a reminder to the kids of today that they should “dream big.”

The First Men on the Moon: The Story of Apollo 11 (Springer Praxis Books)
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