February 26, 2016
— 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.
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 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."
Astronaut Gene Cernan and "Last Man on the Moon" director Mark Craig at the Houston premiere of the documentary. (collectSPACE)
"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 crew members 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, 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."
"The Last Man on the Moon" star Gene Cernan with Ellen Ochoa, the director of NASA's Johnson Space Center. (collectSPACE)
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 they 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 some where out there."
"They put that all together and blew me away."
Astronaut Gene Cernan with "Last Man on the Moon" director Mark Craig, co-executive producer Keith Haviland, and producer Gareth Dodds and executive producer Mark Stewart. (collectSPACE)
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.