There are some days that you just know are going to stand out in the memory for years to come. Yesterday, the final filming day of our trip through the US was one of those. We were at the Johnson space center in Houston and the first task was to interview none other than the last man to set foot on the Moon, Eugene Cernan. Now, I don’t normally get nervous about interviewing people (except, strangely, Simon White) but I’d been worrying about this one since it was arranged months ago. What could I say to one of the six men who walked on the Moon? What could I ask that he won’t have answered thousands and thousands of times before? I’ve asked almost everyone I’ve talked to in the last three months what I should say, and noone came up with anything particularly useful. I know Patrick still rates the interview he did with the same guest in the 70s as one of his best, and the Moon is definitely his territory so for once I felt I was trespassing, albeit at his invitation.
Now, suddenly, Captain Cernan was standing in front of me, complaining that even he had to go through NASA security. Then suddenly he was sitting in front of me, waiting for the first question, and we talked. And talked. And talked. Then – just as he was describing the lunar surface – the tape in the camera ran out, and somehow it didn’t seem right to say anything. Normally I’d relax a bit and chat to the interviewee in the couple of minutes it takes to change tapes over, but this time I didn’t want to break the spell. So I stared at the floor, and then we talked on. In the end, I think we got 100 minutes of interview (for what is – at most – a 30 minute program). I hope we can get the uncut version onto the magazine disc, because I for one want to hear it again – there’s lots more I could have asked, but there’s loads of good stuff. I won’t spoil the highlights just yet, but watch December’s program.
The rest of the day was pretty good too; we filmed one of the three remaining Saturn V rockets (main conclusion – they’re huge), and then got to wander round the building where the astronauts do their training. Then the final interview of the day was with Dr Andy Thomas, an astronaut who’s flown three shuttle missions and spent more than three months on the Russian space station, Mir.
Suddenly we were being taken out to their rover testing ground, and ran into their prototype Chariot rover, which just made me laugh out loud. What a fantastic, cleverly designed beast…seeing it on the ground somehow brought home how seriously NASA are taking their return to the Moon, more about which tomorrow.