Last week it caused a somewhat controversial post about our gumption as a society nowadays. After the finale of the three part mini-series, I figured, “Hey, why not write a review?” So…here it is.
Discovery has aired an awesome three part documentary over the past three weeks called WHEN WE LEFT EARTH. The series chronicled NASA from it’s beginnings through the Moon landings right on up to the last shuttle launch. The documentary features interviews with Astronauts, flight controllers, engineers, and all sorts of people involved with NASA and even their family member.
Last week when I climbed on my soapbox, I said that almost every geek at one time or another in their lives dreamed of being an astronaut, of breaking free of the bonds of gravity and going for a space walk, seeing other worlds, and eating those meals that come in toothpaste tubes. I know as a chubby little kid I was fascinated by the idea of being able to go to space. Maybe it was because of my love of Star Wars, or maybe it was just the daydreams of a kid with A.D.D. before we knew there was such a thing. One thing was certain to me though, I loved everything about space. I still do.
As a nine year old kid, a friend and I devoured everything we could about space shuttles and rockets in the wake of the Challenger tragedy. We were bound and determined to figure out exactly what went wrong. I was convinced it was Russians. The Communists were finally tired of us being better than them at everything and had sabotaged our space shuttle and killed our heroes. My heart sank when I learned that it was negligence and a simple O-ring that caused the hopes and dreams of kids with stars in their eyes to nearly come to a screeching halt. It was at least six months before I was convinced that Russians had nothing to do with it, and then I began to hope and pray that I would see a shuttle launch men and women into space again one day.
As a high school and college student, I reveled in the images taken by the Hubble Telescope. I still love to just look at those amazing images and imagine what it must be like to be up close and personal with some of those galaxies, space clouds, and billions upon billions of stars.
So it was, with great interest that I tuned into The Discovery Channel three weeks ago to watch what was a promising documentary. I thought the channel had peaked with documentaries when it aired Planet Earth. How wrong I was!
I really enjoy documentaries and I don’t watch as many as I should. The genre just fascinates me. A documentary especially fascinates me when the filmmaker has no agenda other than giving the facts of the matter. The truths revealed in such works are usually far more interesting than a documentary used as propaganda.
The only motive other than informing the viewer about the history of the NASA missions seemed to be to paint the men and women involved in the exploration of space as heroes of the world. In a sense, they are. Those men and women are the pioneers of our time. They are the people who dare (and pardon the cliche) to boldly go where none have gone before.
From the beginning of the documentary, I was sucked in by the stories of the men who lived the earliest days of NASA. These guys just sit around and talk about how dying was just a potential part of the job, and it’s what they loved to do. Then, as more and more astronauts were interviewed, one thing was clear, being in space as left a distinctive mark on those who have ventured forth.
Gary Sinise narrates the doc, and does a fine job. He has a certain even line delivery in all his roles that borders on lack of enthusiasm, but really conveys a restrained passion that lends itself well to the narration.
The music, with original themes composed by Richard Blair-Oliphant, has a perfect blend of patriotism, heroism, inspiration, and celebration. As the main theme swells over a NASA achievement, it helps drive home the fact that the missions accomplished were huge undertakings and every mission objective achieved was indeed a great leap forward for mankind.
NASA has not been without it’s share of failures and tragedies, and the documentary does not shy away from these. An honest look is given at each one, and whenever possible, people closest to the failures or tragedies spoke with first hand information about the experience of living through those times. Most interesting was some declassified images and information of the Challenger tragedy in 1986. A lump formed in my throat and once again, some 22 years later, tears welled in my eyes as they replayed President Regan’s speech to the nation in the aftermath of the tragedy. Then, as they recapped the more recent Shuttle Columbia tragedy, I was once again hit with the feeling of sadness for the families and the friends of those brave men and women. It was eerie to watch the moments of the tragedy unfold in the flight control room. It also added a gravity to the situation not felt in the days of the actual happening a few years back.
However, while the documentary was honest and unflinching about these moments, it was more a celebration of the accomplishments of the space program and more importantly the human spirit. I believe it was Buzz Aldrin who closed the doc with a statement paraphrased here:
The thing about humans is if we can imagine it, and if we’ll commit to it, we can accomplish anything.
This documentary made me feel that way and it was very interesting to watch and well put together. If you missed it, I would encourage you to get the DVD’s when they’re available. It’s that good.