Sunday, September 25, 2005

Failure is Not an Option

There are numerous ways of telling the story of the Space Race: from the astronaut’s point of view; as a recounting of missions and key events that led us to the moon; as a tale of technological competition and political rivalry between the U.S. and the USSR. This documentary relates the saga of our journey to the moon from the perspective of the ground-bound heroes who ran the missions from Mission Control in Houston.And what a story it is: a digest of the decade that took us from Sputnik to the moon, through Apollo 17, the final moon trip. The show combines recent interviews and animated recreations with lots of historical film footage, providing a unique perspective on the triumphs, the setbacks, and the tragedies of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions.This documentary is based on the book of the same name by Gene Kranz, the Flight Director on most of these early space missions, and a rock-solid character who is alternately tough and tender, but always erudite and competent. Kranz saw it all happen, and tells his tales of triumphs and emergencies in a compelling, no-nonsense manner. (If you saw Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13,” you’ll recognize Kranz, one of the central figures of the film, portrayed by Ed Harris.)While Kranz is the central focus, the doc also features interviews with many of his key people. If the Flight Controllers of Mission Control are an orchestra, the Flight Director is the conductor. And their story, although a subtext to the main drama, is fascinating in its own right. Legions of engineers—young, brilliant, adaptable, and blessed with common sense—flocked to NASA in the ‘60s. Watching them in their unofficial uniform—white shirt, skinny tie, and pocket protector—living on a steady diet of coffee, cigarettes, and junk food, these highly competitive nerds, infected with “Go fever,” are the very genesis of our current “geek culture.” Ironically, while they were anything but hip, they were also way ahead of their time.We don’t go to the moon anymore. But we did, repeatedly. And guys like Gene Kranz made it happen. The biggest compliment we can give this documentary is to say simply, “This show is a GO!”


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