A history of space flight.





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Credited cast:
Narrator (voice)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Frank Borman ...
Scott Carpenter ...
Gerald P. Carr ...
Himself (as Jerry Carr)
Himself (as Gene Cernan)
Michael Collins ...
Himself (as Mike Collins)
Charles Conrad ...
Himself (as Pete Conrad)
Gordon Cooper ...
Robert L. Crippen ...
Scott Crossfield ...
Walter Cunningham ...
Himself (as Walt Cunningham)
Krafft A. Ehricke ...
Himself (German rocket scientist) (as Krafft Ehricke)
Himself (archive footage)


This 4-part documentary miniseries covers the history of manned and unmanned space-flight, from the late 1800s through the mid-1980s. The first episode, "Thunder in the Skies", begins with the theories of the Russian schoolteacher Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, followed by the liquid-fueled rocket experiments of the American scientist Robert Goddard. The Nazis in World War II construct the V-2 ballistic missile, and after the war German scientists such as Krafft Ehricke and Wernher von Braun come to the United States to continue their rocket work. Meanwhile, the experimental X-series aircraft being tested at Edwards Air Force Base fly closer and closer to the edge of space. But the Soviets beat the United States into space through the efforts of the mysterious "Chief Designer", Sergei Korolev. The United States must play catch-up; they abandon the slow progress of the X-planes in favor of missiles, and NASA and Project Mercury are born. The second episode, "The Wings of Mercury", looks at ... Written by yortsnave

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User Reviews

Still one of the best.
16 November 2008 | by (Helsinki, Finland) – See all my reviews

I first saw this documentary series on television in 1986, and I have subsequently re-screened my recordings several times. This is partially why it feels more important to me than many of the other similar documentaries of the space age. Its strength lies in writing and execution: the familiar footage is interspersed with poignant original interviews, woven into a persuasive and compact narrative and varnished with an excellent score – heroic and sentimental, certainly, but executed very tastefully and given a fittingly ethereal sheen to make it highly compelling and memorable. Its fluid but far from grandstanding visual execution renders it comfortably timeless, when compared to some more impressive but already dated CGI enhancements in certain bigger-budget productions of 1990s. The series pushes enough emotional buttons to absorb especially an adolescent viewer, but for most part doesn't lose its factual content in melodramatics.

Looking back from two decades on, I can also see its flaws. It is very much an American documentary from the very last years of the Cold War and subject to the limitations in viewpoint and available material that this entails. This is especially noticeable in the second and third episodes, which map out the actual manned space race of the 1960s from Vostok 1 to Apollo 11. The Soviet space programme is given a rather cursory glance, while almost every American achievement is gleefully acknowledged, ending in a requisite "America is first to the finish line" blurb. This does convey some sense of the political fears and public fascination underlying the space programme in the United States at the time, an impression of what it meant to the collective consciousness, rather than just a recitation of its actual scientific achievements. It also serves to remind that these, some of humanity's greatest accomplishments, were driven at least as much by primal hunger for power and by ideological polarisation as they were by quest for empirical knowledge and technical achievement. With these limitations in mind, Spaceflight excels.

The final episode, which looks at the state of global space exploration in the mid-1980s, is probably the most balanced, most encompassing and also the most dated. The number one topic of the time, SDI, is given a fairly even-handed presentation, though the inherent absurdities of the world situation and nuclear stalemate logic are now more blatantly obvious (unlike the fact that the same tensions have not disappeared as much as we often like to think).

The number two focal point, the hopes and lofty ambitions bestowed by NASA on its space shuttle fleet, strikes an unavoidably sad chord after the destruction of Challenger and Columbia and the dwindling of the shuttle programme into a kind of crippled white elephant. The optimism and misgivings about the manned space programme close the episode, and they are much as they are today. In some respects the horizons are no closer today than they were twenty years ago.

In short, while some parts may be obsolete, the core of Spaceflight still feels relevant after two decades. Many later documents in Europe and the USA have come up with new material and new angles to the story of space race, but few have told it with such gravity and taste.

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