Astronauts took the place of movie stars walking the red carpet on Thursday night (Feb. 25) at the Houston premiere of "The Last Man on the Moon."
About a dozen men and women who have flown in space came out to Sundance Cinemas to see the new film, which chronicles the life of Apollo 17 moonwalker Gene Cernan.
"I don't think you get this type of turnout anywhere but here in Houston," said Tony Antonelli, a former two-time NASA space shuttle pilot who now works for Lockheed Martin. [Lunar Legacy: 45 Apollo Moon Mission Photos]
The audience also included members of NASA's mission control and Cernan's family, who also appear on screen.
"We've been several places in this country, in the UK [United Kingdom] and other places, and we've gotten some warm responses that have been overpowering for the film. But we're back home. This is home!" exclaimed Cernan after the film played and the audience took to their feet. "For the standing ovation, I appreciate it — it is wonderful."
"To get it from you is special. To get it from my grandkids is unusual. To get it from my present wife and my former wife is an impossible dream come true," he said, laughing.
Among the space luminaries attending the premiere were Apollo 7 pilot Walter Cunningham, Apollo-era flight director Glynn Lunney, space shuttle crewmembers Drew Feustel, Rick Linnehan and Pat Forrester and International Space Station crewmates Nicole Stott, Don Pettit, Clay Anderson and Koichi Wakata.
Ellen Ochoa, a former space shuttle astronaut and now the director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, was also at the premiere.
"You guys who followed in our footsteps, god bless you," said Cernan. "The fact that you are even here, to see this old geezer in a movie someone put together about him, is again very, very special."
Cernan, now 81, became an astronaut in 1963 at the age of 28. He flew three times to space, as a member of the Gemini 9, Apollo 10 and Apollo 17 crews. As commander of his third and final mission, Cernan became the last man to leave his bootprints on the moon's surface.
"The Last Man on the Moon," which opened in select U.S. theaters and is available on iTunes today (Feb. 26), retells Cernan's story from his perspective.
"I refused to do it at first, because who the hell is going to care about a movie about Gene Cernan?" the moonwalker said. "And then it became something special — it became not about me but about the story."
Produced by Mark Stewart Productions and directed by Mark Craig, the documentary returned Cernan to some of the locations around the nation where he and others made space history, where he then reflected on what the places meant to him.
"There was no script, there was no plan, I didn't even know what they were going to do," he told collectSPACE before the premiere. "We went aboard the [USS] Midway in San Diego, went to Arlington [National Cemetery] and all these places, put a microphone on me and said think out loud. I had no idea where the cameraman was — he was somewhere out there."
"They put that all together and blew me away."
Ultimately, Cernan hopes that the movie impresses upon a specific part of its audiences that he doesn't need to be the last man on the moon forever.
"It blows me away that we have got this kind of response to this movie because, in a way, it is almost like my legacy," he said. "I am giving something back and trying to inspire young kids."
"We have worked to put this film together with the hope of trying to inspire your kids, grandkids and theirs to follow in our footsteps and go where no man, or woman, has gone before and do what has never been done before. That has really been our goal with this movie," Cernan said.
"The Last Man on the Moon," produced by Mark Stewart Productions, opens in select U.S. theaters and is available concurrently on video-on-demand services including Apple iTunes, on Friday (Feb. 26). It will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on April 26. For more information, see: thelastmanonthemoon.com.
See more photos from "The Last Man on the Moon" Houston premiere at collectSPACE.
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Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.