Throughout the miniseries, there are scenes where astronauts, engineers, NASA administrators, politicians, and more list all the challenges facing Kennedy’s promise to put American boots on the lunar surface before 1970. In a great scene in the debut episode – titled, plainly, “Can We Do This?” – flight director Chris Kraft (Stephen Root) lists all the tasks NASA must master before even considering a moon mission. And as happens throughout the series, Kraft puts complicated issues into plain English. Describing the process of spacecraft rendezvous, he says: “Come over to my house. You stand in the backyard, I stand in the front yard. You throw a tennis ball over the roof, I’ll try to hit it with a rock as it comes sailing over. That’s what we’re going to have to do.”
If I remember correctly the show was broadcast in the UK on Channel 4 on Saturday mornings, and it was must-watch TV for me. There’s no word of it showing up on UK terrestrial TV this time round, but assuming that doesn’t change any time soon I’m just going to have to pay £9.99 for the HD version because it was a great, great story very well told.1
[Edited to add: Part of what made the show work so well is that it adopted a strategy of changing the focus of the story being told each week. One episode was about the experience of the astronauts’ wives and how they felt being in the spotlight while their husbands were on missions, and another dealt with the requirement that those astronauts whose missions might involve time on the lunar surface needing to learn enough geology to be useful field workers when they found themselves standing on the moon and required to determine where they could take the next rock sample. Another one was focussed on an individual astronaut, Alan Shepard, needing to find a way back into space in the face of his inner-ear disorder. Not entirely a different cast every episode, but very different angles on the story from episode to episode and a cast of folks who spent the next couple of decades being familiar faces in the age of Prestige TV.]
[Via Six Colors]
- In the brightest timeline Tom Wolfe would have kept to his original plan to cover the Gemini and Apollo programmes in his book The Right Stuff, whereas the subsequent Philip Kaufman film adaptation would have stuck to the story of the Mercury Seven in the interests of keeping the film’s run time under four hours. Goodness knows how long the book would eventually have been, but it would have been worth it.