Posts Tagged ‘Alexei Leonov’

Blast(off) from the past

Tuesday, April 27th, 2021

I was sorting through some old slides recently, and came across this one, shot at the Paris Air Show in 1973. Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, on the left, was the first man to walk in space (March 1965), while Eugene Cernan, in the wonderfully understated jacket, was the commander of Apollo 17, and the last man to walk on the moon (December 1972).

As an avid space and moon mission junkie, I’d actually watched Apollo 17 blast off from Cape Kennedy six months previously, at the time never dreaming I would come to within feet of Gene Cernan while he was still a rock star. Moon rock, of course.

Cernan was at the Paris Air Show with the rest of his Apollo 17 crew along with other astronauts and cosmonauts to promote the first ever international space cooperation – the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, which in 1975 would see an Apollo spacecraft in earth orbit docking with a Russian Soyuz via a special adapter. They’d even brought their own illustration of how it would look in space using not just a mock-up, but actual spacecraft that had either been used as a testbed or put together from spare parts. It was the first manifestation of détente between the two Cold War superpowers, and the first project which combined two very different approaches to engineering.

And while I didn’t take the plunge into full-time journalism for another 10 years, it’s clear I was well able to handle myself in a media scrum to get a good photo. In fact, I almost elbowed the chap on the right out of my way to improve my shot. I didn’t think about it at the time, or in the subsequent 48 years, but taking a closer look when I scanned the slide, I realised it wasn’t just another member of the press pack. Note the clearly defined receding hairline, solid sideburns and loud shirt, then take a look at the official NASA photograph to the left. Could it be that in my haste to get a decent photograph of Gene Cernan, I nearly elbowed past Apollo 17 Command Module Pilot Ron Evans?