I’ve always been fascinated by space travel. As a kid, I spent hours reading everything I could about NASA and the various space programs around the world. My sixth-grade science project was on the Space Shuttle, and I even dressed up as an astronaut one Halloween.
Over the years I also devoured any movies and tv shows that had anything to do with space flight. One of my favorite space shows is HBO’s “From the Earth to the Moon.”
“From the Earth to the Moon,” was one of the most expensive television miniseries in history. Costing around $68 million, the twelve-part docudrama took viewers back to the incredible era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, culminating with the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969.
Along with producers Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Michael Bostick, Tom Hanks served as executive producer/co-writer/co-director/actor and even introduced eleven out of the twelve episodes. Their passion is evident throughout the series, and all of them went to great lengths to ensure “From the Earth to the Moon” would be as accurate as possible.
The ambitious project aired weekly over six weeks in two-hour installments. Each chapter had radically different artistic styles behind the camera. With different writers and directors gave each episode its own tone, look and feel. Each hour of “From Earth to the Moon” plays like a mini-movie, beautifully mixing archival news footage with the new material.
But when “From the Earth to the Moon” first aired in 1998, I wasn’t able to see it, because I didn’t have HBO at the time. I didn’t discover the series until the following year when it hit DVD. It didn’t matter though, I was hooked from the first episode. “Can We Do This?”
Directed by Tom Hanks, the opening chaptter is arguably the most linear, condensing the first few years of the space program into an hour-long episode. This one episode told you everything you needed to know about the history of manned space flight and introduced you to all the key players for the rest of the mini-series. From the opening shots of the Vostok 1 launch to Mike Peck sequence. All of it was a joy to watch.
However, as good as “Can We Do This?” is, other episodes have become my personal favorites. For example, episode five “Spider” begins in 1961, as NASA engineer John Houbolt tried to convince management that the easiest way to land men on the Moon will be to use a separate landing craft. It then traces the design and development of the Lunar Module by a team led by Grumman engineer Tom Kelly.
“Spider” also covers the selection and training of the first crew to fly the LEM: James McDivitt and Rusty Schweickart (along with Command Module pilot David Scott), and culminates with their first flight of Spider in Earth orbit on Apollo 9.
Another episode I can watch over and over again is episode seven, “That’s All There Is.” This episode tells the story of Apollo 12, the second lunar landing mission. The entire episode is narrated by Lunar Module Pilot Alan Bean (Dave Foley).
I like this episode because of the friendship the Apollo 12 crew share, and how lost friends are never forgotten by the astronauts. Pius, there are some very funny moments involving a camera, and a school field trip.
Finally, there is episode ten, “Galileo Was Right,” and episode twelve, “Le Voyage Dans La Lune.” I see these episodes as the two-part story of Harrison “Jack” Schmitt (Tom Amandes). He was the first scientist to go into space.
But maybe, more importantly, Schmitt was essential in getting the astronaut corp the geology training they needed. Plus I also like how nerdy Schmitt and professor Leon Silver (David Clennon) get on field trips.
All in all, “From the Earth to the Moon” remains one of my go-to space shows. IT’s brilliantly cast and directed, no other mini-series has topped it since. I can sit down and binge watch this series at any time, and I usually watch it at least once a year at least.
Whether you saw it twenty years ago, or are just hearing of it for the first time, “From the Earth to the Moon” is an exceptional piece of television, and well worth your time.