HOUSTON – An accomplished astronaut flew three shuttle missions and logged more than 12 hours of spacewalk. Yet for 17 years, Rich Clifford, a handful of NASA officials and a Houston doctor were guarding a secret that made his triumphs all the more impressive.
An inspiring new 30 minute documentary that delves into the trials and tribulations 62-year-old Clifford faced as an astronaut secretly battling Parkinson's disease is about to be released.
It explores his journey to go public with the disease and become a champion for Parkinson's research. It's called "The Astronaut's Secret."
"I said I've got to be a part of this," Houstonian Zach Jankovic said.
Jankovic is the documentary's director and producer.
"He had Parkinson's while flying his final mission in space. I said, 'That's incredible' and nobody knew about this," Jankovic said.
The project came to him by way of his father, Houston doctor Joseph Jankovic.
"Rich is a remarkable individual," Dr. Jankovic said.
Dr, Jankovic is the Houston neurologist who diagnosed Clifford in 1994, not long after his second shuttle mission. Through the years, Clifford and Dr. Jankovic became friends and that relationship was instrumental in Clifford's decision to share his story.
"Because his story is so intriguing and so inspiring, would he mind if I talked to my son about doing a documentary on his life story and he agreed," Dr. Jankovic said.
It would be a project three years in the making. Jankovic says getting Clifford on board was the easy part. He had to raise the $100,000 it took to make the film and in order to craft it, he had to rifle through mountains of old NASA astronaut training footage, some 600 hours.
Zach Jankovic said Clifford's story is doing more than just raising awareness about Parkinson's disease, its erasing stigmas, showing that in spite of what might seem like insurmountable odds, people with Parkinson's disease can shoot for the stars and accomplish extraordinary feats.
"I think it was really freeing for him to be able to go public. I think it was something really special for him to finally be able to talk about it," Zach Jankovic said. "I even thought I saw some tears in his eyes when the movie was over because he was able to reflect on his life and realize that his story has a meaning."