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For All Mankind

Today is the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong first set foot on the lunar surface. The astronauts left a plaque on the leg of the lunar lander that remains on the surface of the moon:


My friends and family know I am deeply fascinated by the American space program. It started last year when I saw the Discovery channel’s series “When We Left Earth.” Soon I was scouring the library for all books I could find on the subject, and I’ve kept my Netflix queue full of films and documentaries about the Apollo, Gemini and Mercury programs.

I can’t get enough of the story, for many reasons. First, because it was such a tremendous technical achievement, built by thousands of unnamed and hardworking technicians, engineers, computer scientists and so on. Second, because of the bravery and grace under pressure of the astronauts who risked their lives to pursue the voyage into space. Third, because of the cosmic wonder of it all—to see the Earth from deep space is such an important perspective, and one we would not have if it weren’t for the Apollo program.

I could go on for pages with the list of great books and films on the topic, but I’ll confine myself to just one for today. In connection with the 40th Anniversary, the Criterion Collection of films has released a blu-ray version of the film “For All Mankind.” Created by Al Reinert and first released in 1989, this is the most lyrical and artistic of all the films I have seen on the space program. It has no narration, only the voices of the astronauts themselves describing their experiences. The soundtrack includes the ethereal and otherworldly music of Brian Eno. The images are from high-definition film recorded by NASA that at the time Reinert made this movie had not been seen by the public. The following Youtube clip is a little long, but will give you a taste of the film’s pacing and imagery.

The film was released twenty years ago and the Apollo 11 moon landing was twenty years before that. No-one has been back to the moon since 1972 with the final mission to the moon of Apollo 17. Only ten men have ever set foot on another planetary body, and at this time there’s little indication that any others will do so in my lifetime.

Reason enough for wonder, but there’s much more. In another post I plan to write about the spiritual insights that many astronauts experienced as a consequence of their unique viewpoint from so far away from the Earth.

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