Saturday, March 13, 2004
The last man on the Moon
straitstimes.asia1.com.sg IN ALL of us, said Mark Twain, there is a moon with a dark side.
-- WANG HUI FEN
No one knew the truth of this better than the 12 American astronauts who had walked on the lunar surface.
How their lives were changed so dramatically, some for the worse, remains one of the unsolved mysteries of space travel.
Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon after Neil Armstrong, battled depression and alcoholism. Apollo 14's Edgar Mitchell became a paranormal investigator.
The commander of the Apollo 12 mission, Charles Conrad, a Navy test pilot before he became an astronaut, died tragically in a motorcycle accident in 1999.
Apollo 15's James Irwin became a born-again Christian who was obsessed with finding Noah's Ark.
He led an expedition to Mount Ararat in Turkey in 1982 where, according to legend, the Ark's remains are buried. There was no sign of the Ark. Instead, he was injured during the descent.
Many of the astronauts suffered broken marriages, among them Gene Cernan, whose wife Barbara (in his own words) 'got tired of being Mrs Astronaut'.
Yet, looking at his life in perspective, Mr Cernan was luckier than many of his colleagues - although he had to carry the monicker of 'The Last Man on the Moon' like a yoke.
He went into space three times, climaxing his space career as commander of the final manned Moon mission, Apollo 17. In that mission, he spent 75 hours on the Moon.
Mr Cernan, who was in Singapore last week for the Asian Aerospace 2004 show, has emerged from his space odyssey relatively unscathed - physically and emotionally.
'We just didn't leave Earth physically, but spiritually as well. I've seen a small portion of God's creation. I say this in a spiritual, not religious, sense. To look at Earth in all its splendour and beauty, you can't help but come to the conclusion that it can't all be an accident. So, you return to Earth a changed man. but I don't live in the past. I live for the future.' -- Mr Cernan, seen here on his moonwalk, on the phenomenon of increased spirituality -- NASA
Now a trim and fit 70-year-old, he has embarked on a third career as a commercial aviator with the Canadian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier. (His first was as a US Navy fighter pilot.)
He admitted that the Moon experience had touched the lives of the astronauts deeply, making them more spiritual and inward-looking.
'Some lives changed dramatically,' he told The Sunday Times. 'But for me, I like to believe I am the same man I was a generation ago; I still put on my pants one leg at a time.'
He explained the phenomenon of increased spirituality: 'We just didn't leave Earth physically, but spiritually as well. I've seen a small portion of God's creation. I say this in a spiritual, not religious, sense.
'To look at Earth in all its splendour and beauty, you can't help but come to the conclusion that it can't all be an accident. So, you return to Earth a changed man. But I don't live in the past. I live for the future.'
The astronauts returned from their Moon missions with a sense of invulnerability. This made their descent into their private hells even steeper and harder.
After such a career 'high', everything else paled in comparison.
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