A history of the U.S. manned space program from Mercury to Apollo 17, as seen by the men of Mission Control.
Nominated for 1 Primetime Emmy. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Gene Kranz ...
Himself - NASA Flight Director
James Doolittle ...
Himself (archive footage) (as Gen. Jimmy Doolittle)
Christopher Kraft ...
Himself - NASA Flight Director
Robert Seamans ...
Himself - NASA Associate Administrator
Alan Shepard ...
Himself (archive footage)
Himself (archive footage)
Himself (archive footage)
Jerry Bostick ...
Himself - NASA Flight Controller
John Llewellyn ...
Himself - NASA Flight Controller
Jay Greene ...
Himself - NASA Flight Controller
John Aaron ...
Himself - NASA Flight Controller
Ed Fendell ...
Himself - NASA Flight Controller
Himself - Astronaut
Alexey Leonov ...
Himself (archive footage) (as Alexei Leonov)
Wally Schirra ...
Himself - Astronaut


A history of the U.S. manned space program from Mercury to Apollo 17, as seen by the men of Mission Control.

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TV-PG | See all certifications »


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Release Date:

24 August 2003 (USA)  »

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Did You Know?


The narrator says, "The silver wings that would carry Gene Kranz aloft were born not of laughter, but fire." This is a reference to the famous poem "High Flight" by RCAF pilot John Gillespie Magee; the poem's first lines are, "Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth, and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings." See more »


Gene Kranz: [about President Kennedy's goal to put a man on the moon by 1970] I couldn't believe it. This whole idea of doing it before this decade is out is absolutely ludicrous. And then, you think about it a little bit more, and you get away from the initial impressions, and you say, holy cow. What a challenge, what a job. This guy trusts us, when we haven't been able to put a man in orbit.
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Followed by Beyond the Moon: Failure Is Not an Option 2 (2005) See more »

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User Reviews

The highlights of NASA Mission Control through Gemini and Apollo
1 September 2005 | by (Denmark) – See all my reviews

Based on NASA flight director Gene Kranz' autobiography "Failure is not an Option" this documentary traces the history of NASA Mission Control during the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, with special emphasis on Apollo 1, 8, 11, 12 and 13.

While Kranz' book often comes out as overly jingoistic and with an excess of pathos, this documentary strikes a good balance between depicting the historical background of the space race, the technical issues of spaceflight and the emotional impact on Mission Control personnel.

To people very familiar with the events of US manned spaceflight in those years, there is not much new information to be gained from the documentary. There is Conrads difficult Gemini spacewalk, the Apollo 1 fire, Apollo 8 going around the moon, the Apollo 11 moon descent crises (Computer alarm and low fuel), Mission Controller Aarons reset of the Apollo 12 during launch and of course the whole saga of Apollo 13. All is told through the eyes of Mission Control, its directors and controllers, with the astronauts only appearing as fuzzy voices on the radio downlink.

The strength of the documentary is that it shows us the faces and voices of the Mission controllers. From the perspective of 2003 they re-tell their stories in a seamless narrative illustrated with mostly original film, but also a little re-enactment, which happily is not too intrusive (even though it does show people watching a Mercury launch in colour on their home TV set..). The contrast between the young faces filmed in the 60's and the present-day aged and haughty demeanor of the same men is a captivating reminder of the passage of time. Working in Mission control was obviously the high point of their lives, so there is a slightly nostalgic note to their account.

Some things about the documentary can be criticized. Space buffs will miss technical details, and not much is being said about the system of shifts in Mission Control, that is, how "colourcoded" teams managed the job of mission control 24/7. Also, the focus is very much on the telegenic Gene Kranz, to the detriment of the other mission directors and controllers. This is probably unavoidable when we're dealing with the TV medium, which needs easy-to-follow stories and a captivating protagonist.

If one wants a true insight into NASA mission control, one has to read books about it. This documentary will however serve as a primer, and a good one at that. It is emotional to hear the story of NASA's crises and triumphs, re-told 40 years on by the men who were actually there. They might not quite be unsung heroes, since their feats are well-documented, but they certainly deserve to be heard once more by new audiences.

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