Guest Blog: Christopher Cowen

Today, we launch our Guest Blog feature at Lofty Ambitions. Guest Blogs will continue to appear every first and third Monday of the month. Our first Guest Blogger is Christopher Cowen, who will be at Chapman University on October 5, 2010, to show and discuss the film An Article of Hope. The event is open to the public and is hosted by the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education. Click here for more information.

Christopher G. Cowen (photo by Mark Cowen)

Christopher Cowen is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and is the VP of Original Programming at the award-winning television and marketing content firm Herzog & Company.  A native Californian, he began his career in entertainment as a production assistant on the blockbuster motion picture Apollo 13.  He has worked on other motion pictures and television projects including: From the Earth to the Moon, The Eco-Challenge, Dante’s Peak, and The Chamber.  In 1998, Cowen joined Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman’s Playtone Company as a Development Executive and worked on a myriad of Playtone projects, including The Polar Express, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and Band of Brothers. Cowen went on to serve as a Writer and Associate Producer on the IMAX feature presentation Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D. Most recently, he acted as the producer on the Oscar short-listed David McCullough: Painting with Words and the History Channel special The Real Robin Hood.


"The Beach House" (NASA photo)

There is a place at Kennedy Space Center that holds an enormous historical and personal significance to me. It’s called the Kennedy Space Center Conference Center now, but before NASA became too politically correct, it was simply called “the Beach House.” Since the days of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, it has been a place for astronauts and their families to relax, and spend some personal time with family and friends before their flight.

Colonel Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut, and his family spent time there, as did the rest of the ill-fated crew of Columbia (STS-107). I have spent that last seven years getting to know Ilan Ramon posthumously as I served as a producer on the documentary An Article of Hope. The film details a story that begins in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during the Holocaust, where a young boy, Joachim “Yoya” Joseph, had his Bar Mitzvah and was given a tiny torah scroll by a Rabbi in the camp. The boy survived, and went on to become Dr. Joachim Joseph, a prominent Israeli scientist who helped train the Columbia astronauts for an Israeli experiment that was to be carried into space. Besides their common faith, Colonel Ramon and Yoya’s bond sprung forth out of the unifying fact that Ilan’s mother and grandmother were held at Auschwitz. The two friends decided that Ramon should carry the tiny torah scroll onboard Columbia to show the world that the human spirit can transcend the depths of hell and go to the heights of space.

I imagine the conversations that took place between Ilan Ramon and his wife, Rona, at the Beach House. I think about them standing on the deck—looking out at the beautiful coastal waters of the Cape and filled with excitement for the mission. I am sure that Ilan had moments of deep reflection, knowing that he carried a great burden on his shoulders being the first Israeli astronaut. He was going into space not only as a representative of all the people of Israel, but of all the Jewish people throughout the world. But his mission had a deeper personal significance; he was carrying the tiny torah scroll that had been birthed in a death camp. The scroll survived a place that was intended to stomp out diversity in the world, and now he was part of a multinational crew that would showcase diversity on the global stage as they launched into the heavens. I imagine he took great pride in knowing that would be his legacy.

Chris Cowen, Eugene Cernan (Apollo 17), Neil Armstrong (Apollo 11) (NASA photo)

I am privileged to have had the chance to spend time at the Beach House. In 1998, while working on the HBO mini-series From the Earth to the Moon, we were allowed to film there and it has always stuck in my mind. I remember standing there and thinking about those that had been there before—Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins before landing on the Moon, the Challenger crew, those on the first Shuttle flight, the crew of Apollo 1. I remember thinking that the Beach House was a place of historic significance that would probably never be on any tour, but that maybe it should be. Or, maybe the beach house is a sacred place for those of us who support and believe in mankind’s need to explore. At the end of the day, is our manned spaceflight program about how many rocks we brought home from the Moon? Or whether or not ants can live in space? I think that if the walls of the Beach House could talk, we would realize it’s about the more personal stories of triumph, tragedy, friendship, love, passion, and belief.

The American public is bombarded with images and factoids of why astronauts are national heroes in the vein of Superman. I think we need to take off the cape, strip off the superhero suit, and think of them as men and women standing on a porch filled with nervous energy and excitement—looking out at the ocean knowing they will soon leave the earth to celebrate a grand human achievement. The men and women who launch themselves into space are more akin to the likes of Clark Kent. They have families and friends, they dream big dreams, and they suffer losses just like you and I. I never met Ilan Ramon, but I imagine him standing on the porch of the Beach House looking to the heavens and knowing that his dreams would one day be fulfilled.


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