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.
In June 1986, a little movie called “Space Camp” opened in theaters. From what I can remember, the movie wasn’t a big hit upon release, and a lot of people my age don’t remember it at all. That’s a shame, because even after over thirty years, “Space Camp” is still one entertaining film.
“Space Camp” starred Kate Capshaw as Andie Bergstrom, a fully trained astronaut who hasn’t made it into space yet because the idiots at NASA keep passing her up. After missing out on the latest shuttle mission, Andie and her husband Zach Bergstrom (Tom Skerritt), spend the rest of the summer running NASA’s Space Camp. For those of you don’t know, Space Camp is a summer like camp where kids and teens learn what it takes to be an astronaut. As I kid I dreamed of going to Space Camp, but my famoly was cheap.
Anyways, as a Space Camp instructor, Andie is in charge of a team of five kids. Her “crew,” is literally star-studded, at least by 1986 standards. First there’s Kathryn Fairly (Lea Thompson), she idolizes Andie and wants to be the first female shuttle commander. Next you’ve got Rudy Tyler (Larry Scott), a young kid who loves science, but admits he’s not always very good at it. The other girl on the crew is Tish Ambrosé (Kelly Preston), she’s not your typical “Valley girl.” Tish is arguably the smartest member of the team and has perfect memory recall. which comes in handy at times.
Rounding out the “Space Camp” crew, and making their feature film debuts are, Tate Donovan and Joaquin Phoenix. Donavan plays Kevin Donaldson, and arrogant and selfish student to whom Andie assigns the role of Commander. Pre-crazy Joaquin Phoenix is credited as Leaf Phoenix for some reason. He stars as Max Graham, an over eager 12-year-old boy whom Andie finally allows to stay at the main camp instead of the junior camp.
The basic plot of the movie is actually rather simple. The space campers, along with Andie, get blasted into space by accident. This fiasco started when Joaquin Phoenix’s character becomes friends with an artificially intelligent robot named Jinx. The little robot tricks the NASA computers into forcing a routine maintenance solid rocket booster test into a full-on launch of the space shuttle Atlantis.
Because the shuttle wasn’t ready-for-flight, none of the essential systems onboard are ready to go. This means once in space, Andie and the kids encounter an insurmountable list of problems, including lack of oxygen, no communication with ground control, missed landing windows, and more.
It’s a far-fetched plot sure, but not as far fetched as Jinx was. Maybe today NASA has robots that can do everything Jinx can, but I highly doubt the agency had anything close to Jinx back in 1986. As a kid watching this movie back then, the robot was always
the most unbelievable thing in the film. Once I was older, I also realized that there is no way NASA would allow a bunch of kids to sit in a space craft for any test. But eight year old me loved the idea of riding out the booster test on Atlantis.
With a release of June 6, 1986, “Space Camp” was released less than six months after the horrible tragedy of the Challenger. The movie was likely in the can by the time the challenger happened, but it was probably still responsible for the film taking in under $10 million at the box office. I don’t think the general movie-going public was ready for a movie about a Space Shuttle.
Regardless, I still love “Space Camp” because I got to see how the actual Space Camp worked. The movie shows all the training the campers face, and you even get to see a lot of the facilities. Also, it was nice to see the kids learn to work together in order to get home. Along the way the kids learn what their strengths and weaknesses are, and I imagined kids at Space Camp faced similar things.
“Space Camp” is a very 80’s movie, and it shows, especially in the special effects. Everything else from the music, to the clothes, to kids’ attitudes, scream 1980’s. But for someone like me that grew up in that decade, it all felt realistic and relatable. Maybe that’s why I still have fond memories of seeing the movie when it came out.
Possible Spoilers Ahead!
It’s the early 1960s and the United States is losing the space race against the Soviet Union. The Russians have already launched several satellites and are on the verge of sending the first human into space.
Mathematicians Katherine Coleman (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) are all black women working in the segregated West Area Computers division at the NASA Research Center in Langley. One day, Katherine is promoted to the Space Task Group led by director Al Harrison (Kevin Costner). Their mission is simple: get an American into orbit around the Earth.
Katherine has been a math prodigy since she was a child, but even she struggles to keep up with the demands of her new job. Not because she can’t handle it, but because of the racist treatment that she, Dorothy and Mary must deal with on a daily basis. But soon it becomes clear to everyone involved: They must either learn to work together and treat each other as equals, or they will never get an American into space.
“Hidden Figures” is based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, and the film was co-written and directed by Theodore Melfi. The movie is amazing, and its shocking this story has taken this long to make it to the big screen. “Hidden Figures” is one of those rare true story-based films that succeeds in a every aspect. The movie is inspirational, heart-breaking, touching, and even funny.
The film’s three leads – Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer, Oscar-nominee Taraji P. Henson and award-winning musician/actor Janelle Monáe do some of their best work here. Katherine Johnson’s job is trying to keep John Glenn (played by Glen Powell) from exploding during his mission. Dorothy Vaughan fights for the right to be a supervisor, and Mary Jackson wants to be the first Black engineer at NASA.
Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monáe all get solid character arcs, and their performances elevate the film, making the story even more impactful and satisfying. By the way, all three women could have been nominated for lead actress, because all three get equal screen time.
The supporting characters are also fully developed individuals who have their own character arcs. Jim Parsons and Kirsten Dunst showed range here that I didn’t know they had. Parsons as the NASA Space Task Group’s head engineer Paul Stafford and Dunst as Dorothy’s superior Vivian. Both of these characters are authority figures who undergo personal journeys of their own, over the course of the film.
Meanwhile, Kevin Costner once again proves he’s an acting force as the NASA Space Task Group’s director, Al Harrison. He’s the first person at NASA who treats Katherine Coleman (Taraji P. Henson) with some level of respect. He doesn’t care about her race, all he really cares about is can she do the job, and she can.
“Hidden Figures” does take some liberties with the true story of these ladies, as any movie would. I’m won’t list any of them here, because none of these liberties takes away from the fact that “Hidden Figures” is one heck of a movie, and one of those movies everyone should check out.
And who knows? Maybe this movie and the story of three women will inspire a new generation to study math and computer science
“Hidden Figures” final score: A
Sadly, The Martian 2 will have a smaller budget.