Tom Hanks and Ron Howard: Space geeks

June 20, 2009

Tom Hanks and Ron Howard have long promoted what Hanks calls the "foolhardy yet divine voyage" to Earth's nearest neighbour. Their enthusiasm for the Apollo moon programme has led to their involvement in many moon-related productions, including Apollo 13 and their HBO mini-series From the Earth to the Moon. Between 1968 and 1972, nine Apollo spacecraft travelled to the moon, most famously Apollo 11, crewed by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Roger Highfield met Hanks and Howard at CERN, the particle physics laboratory in Switzerland, where they were promoting their new film Angels and Demons.

Are you doing anything to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon?
Tom Hanks
: I have been invited to 19 different things. But I am such a geek that I am not that excited about Apollo 11's landing.

So what does excite you?
Tom Hanks :
I want to go back and relive the Apollo 17 mission, when Harrison Schmitt and Eugene Cernan lived on the moon for three days. They drove an electric car and it was a flawless mission. As Schmitt was a geologist, they got so much good science done. Alas, it was the last Apollo mission. Neil and Buzz just walked around for an hour and a half, got back in and took a nap. That's all they did. Don't write that down [laughs] - I just saw Buzz two nights ago. I don't want to rag on what they did. Here's what they did: they proved it was possible. Neil and Buzz did not die and made it back safe. They cheated death!

Ron, what do the Apollo missions mean to you?
Ron Howard :
They were all lab experiments. Every mission that NASA executes, and every time a collider gets going, it is all trying to understand our universe and our place in it. I was reminded of NASA when I came here to CERN. In this case the exploration is not about hurtling yourself upwards, but looking inward to understand the world on the most microscopic level.

Has your time at CERN affected your view of science?
Ron Howard :
It has not really changed my view, but it has certainly deepened my understanding of the ways in which humans are trying to explore the universe.
Tom Hanks : Did you go downstairs here at CERN? That is just about the most amazing thing I have ever seen. It is not unlike when you go to NASA in Cape Canaveral or Kennedy and you see what look like bad office buildings. Then when you walk inside you see the orbiter and the spacecraft hooked up to the boosters and ready to go. That's a formidable human structure.I did not know how complicated a particle accelerator needed to be, but it certainly is a lot more complicated than one would think. You can't help but say we are powerful, we are amazing, if we can imagine this and then build it. I would like to come back here and help to press the button when they bring it back online.

Tom, would you like to star in a film about a black hole triggered by the action of the LHC?
Tom Hanks :
I would like to play the planet, not the black hole.

Do you think movies such as Apollo 13 and Angels and Demons help to boost scientific literacy among young people?
Tom Hanks :
Don't discount the ability of a movie to make something mundane look cool. There are kids out there who, after they see this movie, will go into their science class and say: "Is this anything like that particle accelerator they showed in Angels and Demons?" The teacher will roll their eyes and say: "Yes, in fact it is very much like that."

Would you like to roll up your sleeves and crash some hadrons together?
Tom Hanks :
[laughing] I will stick my hand into the particle accelerator when it starts. I'm willing to sacrifice my hand.

By Mike Szymanski

Source : NewScientist N°2713