Apollo 11 and First Man

If you think sheltering in-place with your family is difficult, imagine spending nine days in a broom closet-sized hydrogen-powered death trap with two co-workers. July 2019 was the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11, so it is only fitting that filmmakers have recently given the subject a fresh look.

Apollo 11 is a documentary made from high-resolution 70mm film footage that was recently discovered. There is no narration, other than audio from the actual mission. And an excellent moody soundtrack from Matt Morton. The quality of the digitally scanned film is stunning – the mission looks like it took place yesterday, not 50 years ago. As of this writing, Apollo 11 is currently streaming on Hulu and you might be able to catch it in IMAX once science museums are reopened from the COVID-19 pandemic.

First Man is a film directed by Damien Chazelle and stars Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong and Claire Foy as his wife, Janet Armstrong. The film delves into the human side of the first man to step foot on the moon and his family. It begins with Neil’s career as a test pilot flying the X-15 rocket plane through the historic moon mission. When the film was released, there was a lot of media criticism that the movie wasn’t “patriotic” enough because the camera did not linger long enough on the American flag planted on the moon. Alas, I can assure you that the flag is actually included in the film. As an American, I found the film incredibly patriotic and not some kind of exercise in political correctness. But the goals of the Apollo 11 mission were much larger than an exercise of American patriotism. A plaque mounted on the lunar lander reads:

“Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

And the goals of the filmmakers were larger than simply making a documentary. For most of us, our careers aren’t a matter of life and death. But I think most fathers will relate to Neil Armstrong’s attempts to balance career and family. The standout performance of this film is Claire Foy’s portrayal of Janet Armstrong, Neil’s first wife. Claire Foy, of course, is the Golden Globe winning actress for her performance as the young Queen Elizabeth II in the Netflix series, The Crown (also worth putting in your Netflix queue).

As an aside, there is a second connection between The Crown and the Apollo 11 mission. In Season 3, Episode 7 entitled “Moondust”, the Apollo 11 crew visits Buckingham Palace as part of their world tour. Although an older Queen Elizabeth is played by Olivia Colman and not Claire Foy, the episode provides an interesting slant on the Apollo 11 story as it juxtaposes the historic moon landing with Prince Phillip’s midlife crisis and search for significance.

Apollo 11 is suitable for the entire family. First Man, rated PG-13 in the USA, is a bit intense for younger viewers but still an excellent candidate for family movie night.

Mercury 13

Mercury 13 is a Netflix documentary about 13 female aviators that were screened to be astronauts during the 1960’s space race. Fans of last year’s Hidden Figures will enjoy learning about thirteen extraordinary women who went through the same physical rigors as the male Mercury astronauts but were denied entry into NASA’s official Mercury program due to their lack of combat training, something that no woman at that time could achieve.

Although the late John Glenn was portrayed as a hero of women’s rights in Hidden Figures, he is definitely a villain as far as these thirteen women are concerned. His testimony before the US Congress, combined with that of his fellow astronaut Scott Carpenter, were used to deny these women the right to become astronauts. “The fact that women are not in this field is a fact of our social order,” Glenn stated, even though the USSR would later send Valentina Tereshkova into space on June 16, 1963.

Although Sally Ride became the first American female in space twenty years later in 1983, the first female pilot didn’t fly until 1995 when NASA assigned Eileen Collins to pilot space shuttle Discovery (see related Wikipedia article, STS-63). Eileen Collins helps bring the documentary to a close, acknowledging the contributions of the Mercury 13. She invited the surviving Mercury 13 women to her shuttle flights.

As the father of two daughters and a space geek, I highly recommend this engaging true story for your Netflix queue.

The Last Man on the Moon

Gene Cernan lived an extraordinary life that’s captured in a beautiful documentary.

The Last Man on the Moon is a documentary, currently streaming on Netflix, about the life of Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 17 mission. Although Cernan died earlier this year, the documentary was released in 2014 and contains a lot of first-person interview combined with awesome historical footage from NASA.

Gene Cernan was a naval aviator who became part of the Gemini program. Originally part of the backup crew, he became the pilot of the Gemini 9 mission when the original crew was killed in a plane crash. Later, he was part of the Apollo 10 and Apollo 17 missions, leaving his daughter’s initials written on the lunar surface.

Gene Cernan certainly lived an extraordinary life that’s captured in a beautiful documentary. He died on January 16, 2017 at the age of 82.

Mission Control, also on Netflix, makes a fine sequel to this documentary.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo

One small step for your remote control, but one giant leap for your Netflix queue.

Last month, something caught my eye in the “Recently Added” column on Netflix. It was a documentary entitled Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo. Mission Control weaves a compelling history of the NASA Apollo program by combining interviews of the still-living flight directors and controllers with archival footage and computer animation. As somebody who was not yet living when the Apollo 1 launchpad disaster occurred and still making small steps in diapers when Neil Armstrong made “one giant leap for mankind,” I find this period of history fascinating. It boggles my mind that the backdrop to the achievements of the Apollo astronauts and their support teams were events like the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy.

It’s a great story and if you’re only familiar with the Apollo 11 moon landing and Apollo 13 crisis, you’ll learn a lot about the other Apollo missions. And if you’re curious about the last moon mission, Apollo 17, you’ll want to put The Last Man On the Moon next in your Netflix queue. It’s a documentary about Gene Cernan, the last man on the moon, who died earlier this year. Created by the same team as Mission Control, I’ll write more about that film in a future article.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”