It’s an astronaut story we’ve never heard before—not one of the wonder and awe, but a pragmatist’s view of the discomfort of space travel and the desolation of the moon.
That’s Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman’s story as he recently told it to This American Life‘s David Kestenbaum in a segment called “So Over the Moon.” Kestenbaum was curious to talk to Borman about his experience after viewing filmmaker Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee’s short documentary Earthrise about the Apollo 8’s first mission to the moon in December 1968 and the now famous (but unplanned) photo of the same name.
As Kestenbaum tells it, it was Vaughan-Lee’s raw footage (not used in the documentary) that drove his interest in Borman:
Emmanuel had done these very long, multi-day interviews with each of the three astronauts. He sent me raw recordings. And listening through, I heard something I was not expecting at all.
One of the astronauts, Frank Borman, was saying things I had just never heard an astronaut say.
Kestenbaum was surprised to hear Borman say things like this:
Frank Borman: “Space science fiction still bores me. I’ve never seen– what’s the name of that– that very popular–“
Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee: 2001?
Frank Borman: Yeah, all that crap. I’ve never seen any of that.
He doesn’t like space movies—so what, right? Nope. It runs deeper than that.
In this candid interview (which, trust us, you need to hear to believe) the now 90-year-old Borman spills the beans on the realities of his experiences in space, what it meant, and, more importantly, what it didn’t mean to him.
Borman shares that he’s just not that into space, space travel, or the moon.
And he reveals his real reason for going on the historic mission:
I was there because it was a battle in the Cold War. I wanted to participate in this American adventure of beating the Soviets. But that’s the only thing that motivated me– beat the damn Russians.
Another excellent listen. The noise of those rocket engines! WOW!!
— Willie Stewart (@thesprayshop) August 28, 2018
Borman on being weightless:
[It was interesting for] maybe for the first 30 seconds. Then it became accepted.
And when it came to the moon, well, let’s just say Borman was pretty unimpressed:
Devastation. Meteor craters. No colour at all, just different shades of grey.
The experience was so utterly “meh” that Borman never even shared what he saw with his wife and kids:
…we didn’t talk a lot about it…It was more important to see the boys and see her…It was a wonderful time of reunion and emotion, and the last thing from my mind was to tell them what the moon looked like…Nobody asked.
Borman admits that he was probably the worst person to go to the moon and even turned down another chance to head back for another mission and a walk on the moon. In fact, after he helped the U.S. achieve the mission of beating “the damn Russians,” Borman retired from NASA.
There was one magical part of the trip that did find Borman waxing poetic: looking back at Earth in those moments when fellow astronaut William Anders took that now famous shot of the earth faraway, rising above the moon:
The dearest things in life were back on Earth. My family, my wife, my parents. For me, that was the high point of the flight, from an emotional standpoint.
When we do get to what moved Borman up there, there’s not a dry eye in the house:
This story is incredible and left me in tears. Probably the most romantic thing in the world. Thank you. @CISPisGlobalEd
— Emily Schell (@emmyschell) August 30, 2018
Just had the privilege of listening to this-one of your best EVER. I could have taken the bus to get home faster, but walked instead. Just so I could listen to the end. Nice job:)
— laura gibson (@LauraGibsonArt) August 28, 2018
Thought I was going to hear another boring story about space and instead, an incredibly romantic story of a man who went to space and decided he preferred being closer to his family ❤️
— ri (@rileyliv) August 29, 2018
Jeez friends, just trying to get regular old Tuesday dinner on the table for the fam but needing to halt my chopping and wait for the tears to abide. Please never stop telling stories ❤️
— Molly Millar Dodge (@MillarMolly) August 29, 2018