Wednesday, 26 March 2008

In the Shadow of the Moon

I've just come back from a pre-screening of In the Shadow of the Moon, the story of the Apollo astronauts.

Present were a motley band from the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex, various students from the Australian National University, and veterans of the Apollo program tracking and communications network, from Honeysuckle Creek, Tidbinbilla, and Parkes. The people who made it happen. Those to whom it wasn't just a documentary, but a diary of what they did, 40 years ago.

It's a Chick Flick. Yes, there's lots on the hardware, and some footage I'd not seen before. But mainly it's a narrative by old men in their 70's, of what they did all those years ago, when they "came in Peace for all Mankind". The lines on their faces bespeak their age, but they still have the same fires burning within them. Perhaps a little more cynical now that they don't have to perform as a PR exercise, certainly self-effacing, but Men, Men amongst Men even now. They speak not so much about their accomplishments, but how they felt, a spiritual and emotional side hidden behind the Antiseptic Facade of Astronautism. Especially poignant was one revelation: that while their friends were flying and sometimes dying in Vietnam, fighting their war, they felt unworthy, "not doing their part", just being show-ponies in the newspapers.

They seem more puzzled than angry at the various conspiracy theories about how they couldn't have done what they did. The tracking station personnel though, their views on the subject are both sulpherous and unprintable. Having one's accomplishments dismissed, and one's narratives ignored by the chattering ignoramae will do that.

I know how they feel.

The first question asked of the Director of the Canberra DSC Complex after the film was about plans for return. She still stuck to the official line that it will be in 10 years, perhaps 15. Well, given the likelihood of a President Obama, we could add 8 to that. The next question - by some troublemaking space blogger - was whether the language in the first permanent Lunar base would be English or Mandarin. She dodged that one deftly, saying only that the agreed language of the European Space Agency was English.

The final remark was a vote of thanks to the US of A. You see, while at the time we all claimed credit as Human Beings for this achievement, we only did so after the USA had done the job for us. We, the audience, noted that, and did not forget that this was an American effort, one we had a small part in, but an American effort nonetheless. At a time when the US gets all the blame for its many failings, and not a shred of credit for its numerous successes, when we are no longer a united Humanity, it's time that credit goes where credit is due.


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