How Did Moon Travel Change Astronauts?

For some, going to the moon changed the course of their lives.

ByABC News
July 20, 2009, 5:40 AM

July 20, 2009 — -- In the history of humanity, only 24 men have shared the experience.

Forty years ago today, the first of the two dozen astronauts to fly to or around the moon rocketed away from Earth to make history. Twelve had the chance to walk on the moon's surface, though only nine of those are still alive today.

When they returned to Earth, they were scientists and explorers with no peers, at the pinnacles of their careers.

But for some the adventure was so epic it changed the course of their lives. Inspired and transformed by seeing Earth shrink to the size of their thumbs, many let new philosophical and spiritual sensibilities guide them. Others chose entirely new career paths.

Those who have interviewed the lunar astronauts at length, or are familiar with the space program, say that each individual responded to the experience differently.

But though some changed more drastically than others, and some have been more public about their choices than others, every one of the astronauts was in some way moved by the intense, unparalleled experience.

"There is this sort of general view [and] urban myth that they went to the moon and came back and went crazy. I've met, personally, the people who went the moon and you couldn't hope to meet saner people," said David Sington, a documentary filmmaker who directed the 2007 film "In the Shadow of the Moon," about the lunar astronauts.

What the moon missions gave the astronauts, he said, was "the ultimate perspective."

"To see your own hometown, you have to leave and go and come back," he said. "They did the ultimate trip. They left Earth and leaving Earth and coming back allowed them to see what it really is."