Men in white

If by chance you had an opportunity to look at the night sky last weekend, you would have noticed a full moon. How many of you, I wonder, might have thought, too, that men had actually walked on that shinning sphere?

I thought about it because I had just seen the Tom Hanks presentation of "Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D" at the Pacific Science Center's Boeing IMAX Theater. IMAX, Lockheed Martin and NASA have joined forces with legendary actor Hanks and the pro-duction company Playtone to pro-duce the latest IMAX 3D space film.

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy challenged the United States to go to the moon. NASA employed 420,000 people to work toward putting a person on the moon. The agency reached that goal on July 20, 1969.

Approximately 600 million people watched the Apollo 11 lunar landing on television. I remember that my family was on vacation, staying in a resort cottage on a lake in central Michigan. We all had to crowd into the resort owner's house, because they were the only ones with a television, to watch the landing.

Tom Hanks was only 13 years old when Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin took that first 238,860-mile trip to the moon, but like young boys worldwide, Hanks had a new set of heroes.

In the history of mankind, only 12 have walked on the moon. "Magnificent Desolation" is their story, the story of the actual time the astronauts spent there.

The title takes its cue from Buzz Aldrin, the second astronaut to set foot on the lunar surface. After Aldrin had leapt from the lunar module, Armstrong had queried, "Isn't that something? Magnificent sight out here."

To which Aldrin replied, "Beautiful, beautiful. Magnificent desolation."

The lunar module, by the way, required less computer power to land on the moon than is contained in today's average cellphone.

Together, the Apollo astronauts (during missions 11, 12 and 14 through 17) logged almost 300 hours - approximately 12 1/2 days - outside their lunar modules, exploring and documenting the moon's surface.

The spacesuits the astronauts wore, for all intents and purposes, were tight-fitting spaceships themselves, providing basic life support of a temperature-controlled atmosphere along with food and water. The astronauts' outfits were designed to withstand the moon's average daylight temperature of 300 degrees Fahrenheit. This allowed the astronauts to remain outside the module for hours of lunar exploration and experimentation.

Speaking of the Apollo astronauts' mission and their spacesuits, Hanks has said, "It's a billion dollars worth of science experiments, performed by tired men in very bulky white suits with big, thick gloves that were only breathing as much air as they could carry on their backs, and they were always pressed for time."

After the color television camera on board Apollo 12 failed to work, it was learned that the $78,000 unit could have been fixed with a screwdriver. Although there was a million dollars' worth of tools aboard, that didn't include a screwdriver. The problem was corrected for the Apollo 13 mission, which did boast a screwdriver in its toolkit.

Hanks' earlier work on the 1995 film "Apollo 13," and then his 1998 turn as executive producer of HBO's ambitious 12-hour miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon, had whetted his desire to do a film about the actual time the astronauts had spent on the moon.

NASA helped immeasurably when they afforded access to the 32,000 photographs taken by the Apollo astronauts and the pages upon pages of transcripts of the astronauts' verbal exchanges.

The film is a combination of actual footage taken during the moon flights, newsreel footage and shots taken within a studio on a specially constructed stage. The filming took place on the soundstages on the Sony/Columbia lot, one of the older film studios in Los Angeles. "The Wizard of Oz" was filmed one stage over from where "Magnificent Desolation" was shot.

To further help with the authenticity of the film, a reproduction of the Lunar Rover, a collection of tools actually used by astronauts during pre-mission training, an exact replica of the LEM or lunar module and other props were loaned the film company from the Kansas Cosmosphere and Spacecenter.

The large, 15/70 film frame, combined with the 3D IMAX projection technology and remarkable 12,000 watts of digital sound, provide Pacific Science Center moviegoers with an immersive and extraordinary cinematic experience.

The film, 45 minutes in length, opens Friday, Sept. 23, at Pacific Science Center's Boeing Imax Theater. The theater features Seattle's largest screen and has more than 400 stadium seats. Unlike neighborhood theaters, no commercials are shown before or after the film, only trailers of coming attractions.[[In-content Ad]]