I know its not science fiction, but science fact is what helps drive the fiction. Recently the Discovery Channel aired a 6 hour series called When We Left The Earth – The NASA Missions, and now it is available on both DVD and Blu-Ray, and I’ve managed to take a look at the DVD version. Read More for a review, and you can even watch a clip here (Quicktime only).
Since the dawn of mankind, we have stared up at the lights in the sky and wondered… Now join the heroic men and women who have dared the impossible on some of the greatest adventures ever undertaken – the quest to reach out beyond Earth and into the great unknown of space! To celebrate 50 years of incredible achievements, the Discovery Channel has partnered with NASA to reveal the epic struggles, tragedies and triumphs in a bold chapter of human history. Along with the candid interviews of the people who made it happen, hundreds of hours of never-before-seen film footage from the NASA archives – including sequences on board the actual spacecraft in flight – have been carefully restored, edited and compiled for this landmark collection.
I saw this series in HD when it was first broadcast. It is an excellent overview of the NASA missions from Project Mercury to the STS Program and Hubble Space Telescope. I say overview since it is condensed into 6 hours, but they cover a lot in those 6 hours and cover it well. Gary Sinise (who seems to be forever linked to the space program) works his narrative style well, and the remastered footage is superb.
The series consists of 6 episodes (two each on the first 3 discs):
“Ordinary Supermen” – Project Mercury gets America into space
“Friends and Rivals” – Project Gemini seeks to learn what is necessary to get to the moon
“Landing The Eagle” – The Apollo program reaches out beyond Earth orbit
“The Explorers” – After Apollo 11, NASA faces new challenges
“The Shuttle” – NASA focuses closer to home, in Earth orbit
“A Home In Space” – How Hubble’s problems turned in to a triumph for NASA
Each episode gets into the details of the program, and facts you may not have known – for instance, Gemini 8, after the first successful dock with the Agena docking target, started tumbling out of control, and the Agena was believed at fault. Gemini 8 was forced to emergency undock, but they kept tumbling, discovering that one of their own thrusters was stuck, resulting in an early abort to the mission.
The DVD set comes in a collector’s tin with images of the shuttle and several other launch vehicles in flight. The tin opens like a book, with double-disc plastic holders inside holding the 4 discs. I did have some problems getting the discs out of the holders – the hubs don’t seem to release very easily.
There is also an insert which describes the contents of each disc, but there is no place to hold the insert – it kind of floats free between the holders in the case, and it gets wrinkled from the hubs pressing on it.
Each disc is screen printed, with a different image: A spacewalk, lunar module, shuttle liftoff, and an image of the Earth.
Each disc opens with the same musical ad for the Discovery Channel, and then a short montage of NASA clips before the menu comes up. The main menu is a simple list but with a bar of moving images scrolling near the top. The submenus are similar.
The bonus materials found on the first three discs include:
NASA Film Highlights – excepts from the NASA films “For Days Of Gemini 4”, “Apollo 13: Houston, We’ve Got A Problem”, and “Skylab: The First 40 Days”
Interviews – Michael Collins, Astronaut, Joe Kosmo, Space Suit Engineer/Designer, Al Bean, Astronaut, Gene Krantz, Flight Director, Shannon Lucid, Astronaut, James Crocker, Aerospace Engineer
Mission Clips – Short clips from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Shuttle and Hubble missions. Several clips are accelerated, and set to music.
The fourth disc is exclusively bonus material, with some original NASA films:
Friendship 7: John Glenn
Proud Conquest: Gemini 7 & 6
Apollo 8 Debrief
The Flight Of Apollo 11
Overall, this is an excellent historical documentary of the NASA space programs. I’m getting to relive my childhood, where I read everything I could about the space program. Now my daughter is interested, and the was an excellent introduction for her into the entire space program.