The Apollo documentary shares neglected images of the race to space


The historical scale of Apollo 11 is engraved in the minds of Americans, but behind the "small step" are unknown stories that have escaped the gap.

An upcoming documentary presents some of these moments in an unusual way, causing the viewer in the Apollo era and the space race, from launching Sputnik to the era of the shuttle . As an author and historian of space, I was delighted to be hired to consult on this project, especially because I had just finished a book on Apollo 11 and had the cool topic in mind.

Working on the film gave me the opportunity to review the many hours of footage that the producers had obtained. Looking for clues and possible mistakes in these images looked like an Easter egg hunt in the space age. The producer's ambition to tell the film in real time, in an intriguing narrative style, has intrigued me. This is not your typical documentary of "the voice of God"; it is something much richer and much, much more difficult to do.

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This is what distinguishes "Apollo: Missions on the Moon" many memories of the race to space.

"The purpose of the film is to create something that looks like a time machine," said Tom Jennings, the film's producer and director, during a debate at the annual Television Critics Association ceremony. Awards in California. "National Geographic talks a lot about going to distant lands to explore the world, in a sense, we're exploring archives, it's a bit like you could imagine an archive of footage that looks like the final scene. from "Indiana Jones." "

By treating NASA's archives as a destination to explore, the original documentary team was able to find and highlight the lost audio and video gems, he said. . "We enter, dive deep into reality and try to find things that we have not seen for a very long time and create a scenario that gives you the impression of watching a movie – but everything is real. "

This sequence explores less known events surrounding the missions. In addition to great, digitally enhanced and digitally enhanced shots I had never seen (and I saw most of them), there were audio recordings that were also new to me – it was like a new window on the story of Apollo. "One of the most unusual things is the video of the day Apollo 11 landed in a church located in Garden Grove, California," said Jennings about his favorite among these discoveries. "We are in the middle of the day and the priest is standing in front of a hundred cars, preaching, and people are praying in their car."

There are other wonderful and rare moments in the film, which save voices lost from the control of the mission. Producers had access to old 30-track recordings from the control room. These had been little used because the machines capable of using them had long since disappeared.

The recordings differ from the Apollo audio that the audience has heard before. As a general rule, during mission broadcasts, we hear only one voice, that of Capcom, the person who speaks directly to astronauts. Instead, these recordings include 30 different voices coming from the room.

The effect is particularly poignant during the perilous Apollo 13, when the control of the mission had to struggle after the explosion of an oxygen tank. "We are able to hear, in real time, not just what is happening with the line coming up in space and coming back," Jennings said. "It's almost like music to me, all those voices come in and out, all trying to figure out how to bring those guys back home."

Film producer Tom Jennings discusses the making of "Apollo: Missions on the Moon" at a panel held in February.

(Image: © Photo by Vince Bucci / National Geographic / Picture Group)

The jackpot includes about 10,000 hours of recordings and a large portion of those of Apollo 11 and 13 have been digitized. "They mark it so we can marry it with the sequence that, until now, was a silent film," Jennings said. "So now you're going to experience it a lot like [‘Apollo 13’ film director] Ron Howard would make a movie. "

While working on the film, Jennings also relives his own experience of the Apollo program. "The biggest thrill for me was watching the images of Apollo 8," Jennings said. "I was 7 years old at the time and I lived in Cleveland, I remember going to the convenience store, cracking under the frozen snow, and I had to go back to Full speed to make sure I'm at home for the broadcast of Apollo 8 Christmas Eve.

"I remember Christmas Eve looking at the moon and trying to understand it, they're up there and I'm going to watch them on TV," Jennings said. "It was just beyond a child's understanding, and now that I've viewed all the images, it's even more amazing for me today."

He said he hopes the film inspires an experience similar to its viewers. "We are exploring the past and trying to bring it back to the present for the people who remember it," said Jennings. "They might see it differently for the first time, and for people who have never lived it, they will be able to live it in a way that no one has told them before."

"Apollo 11: Missions on the Moon" will air for the first time on National Geographic in July during the "Space Week" network.

Rod Pyle is an author and editor of the "Ad Astra" magazine of the National Space Society and author of "First Experience on the Moon: The 50th Anniversary Experience of Apollo 11", which will be released in April 2019. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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