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CNN Heroes: The men of Apollo

  • Story Highlights
  • New documentary features 10 of the surviving Apollo astronauts
  • "In the Shadow of the Moon" premiered at Sundance Film Festival this year
  • The movie opened in New York and Los Angeles last week
  • It arrives in additional theaters nationwide Friday
  • Next Article in Entertainment »
From Andrea Mineo
CNN
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(CNN) -- The film "In the Shadow of the Moon" reunites 10 Apollo astronauts as they share their memories and emotions of reaching a destination never before visited by man.

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Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin describes the lunar surface as "magnificent desolation."

The documentary, which premiered this year at the Sundance Film Festival, opened in New York and Los Angeles last week and arrives in additional cities nationwide Friday.

The film features interviews with the astronauts and never-before-seen footage from NASA's vaults. It won the World Cinema Audience Award for Documentary at Sundance.

The story of the Apollo space program begins in May 1961, with President Kennedy's challenge in a speech to Congress: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth."

From 1968 to 1972, the men of Apollo met Kennedy's challenge during a time when America was in a Cold War with the Soviet Union and the space program faced fierce competition from Moscow.

"The genius of Kennedy was to understand that a project like this would act as a rallying point for the nation and would also be a fantastic way of demonstrating to the world the value of American life," said film director David Sington.

"It was a space race -- there's no question about it -- to try to beat the Russians there," said astronaut Charlie Duke. Video Watch the astronauts talk about the moon -- and the movie. »

"Kennedy gave us this goal and a timetable, and then we, the 400,000 [people working on the space program], began to try to find a way to achieve an impossible dream," said astronaut Alan Bean.

The 10 astronauts in the film have a shared experience, but the stories they tell are each unique, and in surprising ways, moving:

  • Buzz Aldrin, the lunar module pilot on Apollo 11 and the second man to walk on the moon: "1968 in particular was a very tumultuous year -- [with the assassinations of] Martin Luther King [Jr.], Robert Kennedy -- but right near the end, Apollo 8 went to the moon and over Christmas they read Genesis, and when they came back some people wrote in and said thank you for saving the year."
  • Duke, the Apollo 16 lunar module pilot: "At times it was very personal and very emotional for me. Even today sometimes I think about some of the things, leaving the picture of my family on the moon and talking about my dad, who was so proud of his son from South Carolina, who could hardly believe it till the day he died. That gets emotional for me."
  • Bean, who piloted the lunar module on Apollo 12: "It changed me a lot, it made me a lot more grateful for being a human being.. ... The emotion that runs through me is gratitude. It's not wonder as much. Maybe I got over that quicker, maybe it's the thought, 'Gosh ... just to be a human and have a chance to do that. I hope some day everyone will be able to do that.' "
  • Harrison Schmitt, Apollo 17 lunar module pilot: "I also came away with one very, very strong feeling, that Apollo demonstrated what human beings can do when they decide there's something important to do, and it gave me a great deal more faith in humanity."
  • "In the Shadow of the Moon" is a time capsule for anyone interested in what it was like for the Americans who flew to the moon.

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    "They're the people who have really seen where we are in the universe and what we are," the director said.

    "You know over half the people on Earth were not alive during Apollo," Bean said. "So is it ancient history to them and they're not interested? Or is it one of the great moments in their country's history, and they want to know more about it? I'm anxious to see how it goes." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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