This is a 6-part series presented by the Discovery Channel, documenting the different devices created so that America could reach the moon by a deadline that then US president Kennedy had promised the nation.
The Saturn V Rocket: After the Russian space program started marking many firsts in space travel, America needed to catch up and so it enlisted some German engineers that could design the rocket that could get them to the moon. This episode focuses largely on the troubles they faced while designing the “stages” of the rockets.
The Command Module: The portion of the rocket that will have to be the last remaining piece to unsure that the astronauts return home. When so much was detached itself, this part must crash onto the Earth. In this episode is the terrible tragedy of the first piloted test where the PSI of oxygen was not considered and a single spark caused the entire module to burn within, killing the original three astronauts who were to pilot the Apollo.
The Navigation Computer: A fantastic bit of development by the folks at MIT, based on a wonderful navigation system that once flew a bomber across many States without assistance that utilized the design of a gyroscope. One of the geekier ventures in the series as less risk is involved, but more experimentation and science from the highest level of tech-heads.
The Lunar Module: The vehicle created for the astronauts to use once they were ready to leave the Moon. There is the usual stress of the creators and some absolutely amazing test footage of Neil Armstrong ejecting from a test module before it explodes on the Earth. As well, there is the enormously famous story of the Apollo 13 and the many miracles within that story that saved three astronauts.
The Space Suit: The story of the coworkers and competitors who worked to create a suit that would keep a man alive in the vacuum of space. The was quite possibly the most crucial and concerning creation of all.
The Lunar Rover: Finishing up with what is very likely the least crucial creation, a vehicle to be used to explore the Moon as well as be a lab for the astronauts to gather and work on data. Still some interesting facts and footage but without the drama of the preceding parts.
A common factor throughout all of the episodes is the enormous amount of man power put into each creation, as well as the ridiculous amount of trials and changes needed for something where there is little pre-existing research available to refer to. Most questions had no answers and every single possibility had to be considered. Throughout, there are some fascinating developments. All this, and the underlying competition that was the Americans Vs. the Russians, which was what prompted Kennedy’s boast to begin with.
There were a small few points where the scoring is odd. I recall some moody strings playing during a sample of a cartoon created to explain how space would effect a human. It made the scene quite eerie and uncomfortable as the delightful cartoon man implied that he’d die if exposed. Not the sort of mood I wish for in something education (both regarding the original cartoon and its replaying here in a documentary series).
The interviews are informative, and we get to see many of those who were directly responsible and/or involved, and not just the same faces over and over in each episode either. All of these folks are in their golden years but still speak with great pride and energy about their efforts and accomplishments.
Widescreen 1.78:1. There is plenty of test footage used from the 60s and onward that forces borders onto the edges of the screen, but the majority is presented in complete Widescreen.
The picture is quite clear, even the older footage is with little grain except that of natural age on the cheap footage used (in most cases, the quality of the cameras was the least of the NASA engineer’s concerns).
Dolby Digital Stereo. Though not in full surround, the quality is still very nice. The music has a nice tone and all of the narration and interviews are crystal clear. Good levels and a nice mix of sounds.
Subtitles available in English only.
This is a very nice series for both the well-versed in space travel and the unenlightened. A hearty enough slice of Americana thrown in, since much of this is rooted in Kennedy’s “Go America” style bravado, but not enough to be corny. The respect lies in the work of those who created these brilliant devices with less heroics pinned on those who piloted them or merely talked about them. Granted, the astronauts get their share of respect, but it is all part of a nicely balanced look into the contemporary history of American invention and some of the most fantastic innovations in the history of American space travel.