Apollo 50 on the Screen

As we cruise towards the Lunar Landing 50th anniversary, here’s 5 of the best TV shows, movies and podcasts showing now. Strap in for a warp-jump through decades of nostalgia and awe.

NASA image: Earthrise from Command Module July ’69

BBC drama-doc. 8 Days to the Moon and Back

Intimate and immersive. We eavesdrop on real audio-tapes of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins while actors re-create the claustrophobia of Apollo’s voyage. This puts us right into the cockpit with those three men, silver sardines in a dim cabin, wryly smiling for the folks back home. Then back to clipboards. And four days in, here comes a Moonrise through the porthole. ‘Quite an eerie sight,’ says one of them. Earthshine picks out the Moon in 3-D, haloed with the Sun’s corona. ‘Worth the price of the trip,’ concludes Armstrong. ‘Fantastic.’ ‘You could spend a lifetime just geologising that one crater alone,’ Buzz suggests. ‘There it is coming up.’ ‘What?’ ‘The Earth. Yep. Beautiful.’ Out of the dark, a blue marble blooms, jewelled with water. A day or so later, Mike Collins watches the lunar module drift below, after it’s separated from his Command Module. He must orbit the Moon alone, while they take the Eagle down.  ‘You guys take care.’ Back comes Armstrong’s breezy reply: ‘See you later.’ As if that’s assured. We puff a mist of suspense onto the glass.  1 hr. 29 mins, available on BBC i-player for 11 months. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0006p5f

Apollo 11 doc. Film, opens UK June 28th 2019

This new NASA documentary proves ‘a magnificent ride’, as Armstrong said of his Saturn V launch. 93 minutes of original NASA footage spools out from dawn July 16th ’69 through 8 days and thousands of space miles. It’s epic storytelling. We swoop from a launch tower panorama to Canaveral groundlings in snazzy 60s shades to selfies from the Apollo cockpit. At lift-off, we’re down in the rocket’s fire pit as it erupts in a white fury, showering ice between flames. NASA’s camera loves the technology, skimming up Saturn V’s sleek outline, cutting to neat graphics of docking manoeuvres & lunar trajectories; then a close-up of duct-tape and tin- foil on the Eagle Lander. It might be a prop from The Clangers or a Blue Peter mock-up rather than space technology. And what of the three men aboard Apollo? There’s a poignant opening scene with the ‘suit technicians’ dressing them before the bus ride to destiny. Gloves, caps, helmets. They’re caught in the spotlight of NASA’s TV theatre, waving on cue. But what a space opera that was. Dir. Todd Douglas Miller, USA, 1 hr 33 mins. https://www.apollo11movie.co.uk/

NASA image: Apollo 11’s Lunar Landing vehicle July ’69

Chasing the Moon, PBSTV doc. series

So much Apollo 50 footage has been tinted in red, white and blue, with an underscore of triumphalism. Hopefully this PBS trawl through unseen archive material can provide a wider perspective. At least in its opening episode, it considers the extraordinary series of Russian space firsts, from Sputnik to Gagarin. There is some exploration of how the Space Race was fused with the darker politics of the Cold War. As NASA today belatedly attempts to diversify its history, future episodes promise to focus too on a female Mission Controller and the first black astronaut. Dir. Robert Stone, series broadcasts BBC 4 UK on 16th July 2019. Episode 1: A Place Beyond the Sky. 48 mins. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0006vr4

NASA’s Apollo 50 podcasts/ TV streaming

With Apollo 50 celebrations rising to a crescendo, NASA sets out its TV/ web schedule on its website. There’s a packed roster, from July 16th’s interview with Mike Collins on Saturn V’s historic pad 39a, through to replaying its original Apollo footage from the Moon on Saturday 20th July. Nestled in there is a live programme that promises to set the pulses of space fans racing:On Fri., July 19 at 1 p.m. EDT, NASA TV airs a live celebration of the Apollo 11 mission’s 50th anniversary and a look at our future plans to return to the Moon and go forward to Mars.’ Plot your streaming at: https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive

NASA image: Armstrong inside Lunar Module after EVA July ’69

Armstrong, Doc. Film

One man won’t be joining the 50th anniversary celebrations. Yet his softly spoken presence will be felt everywhere, as archive interviews are dusted down and ghostly lunar landing tapes replayed. Narrated by Harrison Ford, this documentary answers the question of why Neil Armstrong was the ‘Right Stuff’ for this job. Nothing new there. But all the eulogies aside, family home movies and interviews with his children get us up close and personal to the elusive figure behind the First Man label. Dir. David Fairhead, USA 2019, 1hr 50 mis.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbvuciKeBgw