I am a huge NASA buff, so I love anytime there is a program that provides new details and insights that I previously did not know. This program was broadcast on the National Geographic channel. It is about the Apollo program that was kicked off with President Kennedy's May 25, 1961 announcement before a special joint session of Congress the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade. Eight years of hard work by thousands of Americans came to fruition on July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong stepped out of the lunar module and took "one small step" in the Sea of Tranquility, calling it "a giant leap for mankind. The Apollo program, specifically the lunar landings, is often cited as the greatest achievement in human history.
Some highlights included in this show were the disaster of Apollo 1 in January 1967 which resulted in the launch pad fire in the command module test that led to the deaths of Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. It revealed the shoddy electrical work that led to the fire, as well as the cumbersome hatch door that took over 4 minutes to open. This caused a redesign in the hatch where it could be opened in 3 seconds.
They also discussed Neil Armstong's near fatal accident when testing the "flying bedstead", an early test model of a lunar landing device. It went haywire and seconds before crashing, Armstong was able to eject safely. If he had not ejected safely, few would know his now world famous name today.
One item I never knew was the story behind Apollo 12. They launched during pouring rain, unaware of the dangers. The rocket when launching actually generated a lighting bolt which caused all the computers to go haywire. The astronauts were flying blind at over 1000 mph. With the help of engineers back at mission control, they are able to determine the problem and fix it. It was great to hear the audio of the astronauts after they fix the problem. Astronaut Pete Conrad can be heard laughing hysterically. It was a nervous laugh at the prospect that they almost "bought the farm".
They also go into detail about Apollo 13, but most everyone has probably heard most of this much publicized event. Two days after launch, an electrical short inside an oxygen tank causes a massive explosion. This triggers the infamous words "Houston, we've had a problem". Other details included about Apollo 13 were how they arrived at the decision that Armstrong would be the first man on the moon, rather than Aldrin. Also, they revealed just how risky the lunar landing was, and how it almost didn't happen when the auto-pilot overshot their original landing zone. They also discuss how President Nixon and his staff had already prepared a eulogy to remember these men had disaster struck. A portion of the speech included the following words: "These brave men...know there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know there is hope for mankind because of their sacrifice."
Even though this was broadcast in high-def, the early footage is of course grainy. But there are some shots of a launching Saturn V rocket that must have been enhanced because it is very clear and vivid (though not quite high-def). Some of the moon photographs of the astronauts as well are very clear and must have been enhanced. I was very impressed with the visual quality.
There are quite a few recent interviews with the now, much older, original participants like astronauts Anders (Apollo 8), Aldrin (Apollo 11), Bean (Apollo 12), Haise (Apollo 13), Young (Apollo 16), Duke (Apollo 16) , several Flight directors, engineers and journalists covering the original events. But as usual, there is no appearance from the ever elusive Neil Armstrong, which is disappointing. (I have heard he did make an appearance in a recent series titled "When we Left Earth" broadcast on Discovery Channel.)
Overall, the program highlights the huge risks taken by the early pioneers in space exploration and the overwhelming successes they accomplished in spite of these risks. I think we take for granted the ability of man to go into space nowadays, but this program reminds us just how lofty and unattainable this goal seemed to be at the outset. And yet, with NASA's determination and the bravery and intelligence of the men and women in NASA... "Fauilure is not an option".
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