I have just previewed the National Geographic TV movie, ‘Apollo: Missions to the Moon’.

I urge you to watch National Geographic TV tonight, Sunday, July 7th, which will have Apollo: Missions to the Moon premiering at 9/8c. If you miss it, I am sure Nat Geo will have it on their Nat Geo TV site.


(Image courtesy of National Geographic TV)

You all know how much I love space-related topics. Well, this excellent documentary brings me back to my early days in the '60s when I decided to become an engineer because of the Space Program. I was taken back to my teenage years with lots of news clips from these early TV days, just as I had remembered them.

There were more than just news clips though. In true Nat Geo style, there were filmed '60s interviews with all sorts of people, ‘person on the street’ and NASA personnel, as well as astronauts and their families. President Kennedy’s historic rallying speech kicked things off followed by a clip of Wernher von Braun, without whose knowledge of rocket engine technology we may never have set foot on the Moon in the '60s.

The Apollo 1 fire tragedy and death of three brave astronauts was treated with great respect and sensitivity, I thought. You can see more details in my editor/writer colleague George Leopold’s book entitled,  Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom.

There were some funny moments as well when Bob Hope was interviewing the three Apollo 7 astronauts. These were the men on the first successful crewed Apollo space mission. They teased Bob Hope about being lucky in his career to which Hope replied, “Nobody likes a smart astronaut.”

We see an interview with astronaut Jim Lovell, command module pilot of Apollo 8, in which Lovell discusses his view of Earth from space. It was noted by the TV commentator that later the UK Flat Earth Society re-assessed their beliefs!

Lovell was later commander of Apollo 13, which had some harrowing moments when their oxygen tanks exploded on route to the Moon. The Apollo 13 event was very well documented in such a way that brings the viewer back to the intense, heart-pounding drama felt by TV viewers and especially NASA Mission Control, whose personnel were trying to save the three astronauts' lives.

There was also an interview with a person on the street who said that she had heard that 90,000 people were in the process of signing up with Pan Am at a cost of $28,000 each for trips to the Moon in the near future. Does that sound familiar to you in today’s society?

More interviews with people from all walks of life waiting for an Apollo launch on Cocoa Beach, FL documented the excitement and wonder as well as pride.

Then we reflect back 50 years to see the drama and anticipation of Apollo 11’s journey to be the first manned spacecraft to put man on the Moon. There was more drama there with a ‘1202 alarm,’ which meant a computer overload as they were coasting above the lunar surface to a landing spot.

I really liked the 1960s Channel 7 interview by Mary Driver of Frances ‘Poppy’ Northcutt: The first woman at NASA Mission Control, who I had the pleasure of interviewing recently. The interviewer said, “How does it feel to work among so many men in a world that is dominated by men, isn’t it?” to which Northcutt replied, “It’s actually dominated by computers and machines as a whole!”

Another familiar mention of the fact that in March 1970, unemployment rose to 4.4% of the population, money was tight, and public interest began to wane as NASA and contractor budgets shrunk along with news media coverage. The Apollo 13 drama brought public interest back for a while, but we saw NASA and Congress push for a move to the Space Shuttle program.

This was not the end, it was just the beginning.

Note: I have just finished my copyrighted book on the Apollo program entitled, ‘Guardians of the Right Stuff’ and am in the process of seeking out a literary agent. I am hoping to have it published soon. This is a story of the unsung NASA and Grumman men and women who got our brave astronauts to the Moon and back safely with the Lunar Module (LM) and the importance of this historical effort in light of the recent funding and accelerated efforts towards the commercialization of space exploration. Companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, Virgin Galactic, and so many more entries into this monumental effort, need to have their people emulate the dedication and care for details that these ‘guardians’ had for astronaut safety.

Steve Taranovich is a senior technical editor at EDN with 45 years of experience in the electronics industry.