Memories from my childhood include a long love affair with the heavens. In the hours after my parents put me to bed, instead of drifting off into dreamland I’d gaze skyward through the window at the stars and the moon.
Ron Howard’s new documentary “In the Shadow of the Moon” brought me back to those days as a kid when I couldn’t get enough of the night sky and all that fills it. This story–told solely in the words of the astronauts who piloted the Apollo missions–is not only riveting, it is moving, and hearing the joy in their voices as they describe these astonishing and historic experiences will make you giddy, as will seeing the awesome footage of their journeys.
From the very beginning of the film you will be struck by the simplest of statements that flashes across the screen: that the men you are about to hear from are the only humans alive to have journeyed to another world.
Soon after these opening words, you are also reminded that the 1960s–which saw the initial Apollo missions, which never made it into space, as well as Apollo 8, which first orbited the moon, and Apollo 11, the famed first landing on the moon–were not only a time of war and protest, but also a time when open talk of God and religious beliefs were common. Neil Armstrong’s mother whispers “May God bless my son” on national television to nods and applause. We learn that Anders, Lovell, and Borman, the crew of Apollo 8, had the Book of Genesis added on “fireproof paper” to the end of their flight manual, and chose to read and record verses 1-4 out loud as they made their initial orbit:
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that [it was] good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”
Of course, perhaps in foreshadowing of times to come, the astronauts and NASA were sued by one woman for violating the First Amendment’s separation of church and state by reading from a religious text while piloting a government vehicle. The astronauts recalled this with a chuckle and commented that it seemed appropriate at the time to them, and that they had no regrets about their choice of narrative.
Don’t miss “In the Shadow of the Moon.” It’s a chance to go to heaven for a bit and share in the transcendent moments in the lives of a few extraordinary men.