Last Man on the Moon

It’s hard to put into words how it feels to meet someone like Gene Cernan. GENE CERNAN. Wow. Captain Cernan was in December 1972, the last human being so far to walk on the surface of the Moon. His story, along with those of all the other Apollo astronauts captured my imagination as a child. They walked on the Moon. ¬†They were pioneers, lives were lost and risk was simply accepted. The Apollo era of the 1960s and early 1970s is something we are not likely to ever see again. It is the most incredible example of human achievement and it is still simply beyond me to think that we actually walked on the Moon, let alone the realisation that we haven’t been back since 1972.

Sarah and Gene

So when I last week had the opportunity to interview him as part of a ‘making of’ for the film Last Man On The Moon, it was of course something I jumped at the chance to do. Of course they always say you should never meet your hero’s, but meeting Gene was not disappointing. Just to sit and listen to him talk was like hearing a first hand account of history. When he spoke I found myself so thoroughly captivated by his words, hanging on to every single one. Yet weirdly there are not enough words to describe how it feels to meet someone him. As a space obsessive I know the intimate details of all the successes, but also the tragedies. To listen to Gene talk first hand about hand about people such as Gus Grissom, or Charlie Bassett was actually quite difficult. Here was someone who knew these people, who I have read about in history books, first hand. Yet the pain seemed raw even after all these years. In fact after a crew screening, you could see Gene moved pretty much to tears as he talked about the ‘why me’. Why was it him stood there in front of an audience, having walked on the Moon, watching a film about his life, when his good friend Charlies Bassett, who according to Gene was exceptional, was simply a name on a gravestone – that very few people had heard of. In fact he added that what upset him most was at Arlington those astronauts who lost their lives in pursuit of space are not known as astronauts on their graves.For me the weirdest thing about meeting Gene Cernan, was that he had aged. As daft as that sounds, because of course he has aged. But when you see all the footage and read all the many many stories, he is this young man in his 30s and 40s. Yet there he was at 80. You realise how long ago the Moon Landings really were and how rapidly time passes. The fact that we age, feels impossibly cruel.

Sarah interviewing Gene CernanI asked Gene if he felt disappointing that we hadn’t gone back to the Moon. He kinda skirted around the question, instead insisting that he is right, however he just simply got the time scale wrong. He also seemed so passionate about inspiring people. Here he was, this boy from a poor farm, who grew up to walk on the Moon. In a phrase used in the film and in the interview he said “I walked on the Moon, what can’t you do”. He also said this, which really stuck in mind, “never count yourself out, you just don’t know what fate has in store for you”. This refers to the twists and turns which made his life end up the way it did. Utterly inspired. Of course I could go on forever and ever. An hour chatting to him didn’t feel like enough. I was also utterly humbled to see how he took the time to speak to so so many people during the two evenings I spent with him. Nothing was too much, he would pose for pictures and chat to people, even though he would have done the same thing thousands of times. Just simply an incredible human being. I will forever be privileged to have met him. Not enough words can ever be used to articulate my feelings about this . Just simply an incredible human being. Wow.