"The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join it or not, and it is one of the greatest adventures of all time... We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for all people... We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard..." -President John F. Kennedy, 1962
Over half a century ago, mankind’s journey to the stars began with the launch of Sputnik 1. A few short years later, man would be setting foot on the moon. Moonwalk One, a 1970 documentary film by Theo Kamecke, details the comprehensive coverage surrounding the July 1969 launch of Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the moon. It chronicles the activities of both the astronauts and mission control during pre-launch and launch sequences, daily activities aboard the spacecraft and the moonwalk, and provides a view of the historical and cultural events of the time. The film also explores some of the critical preliminary stages of the Apollo program, including medical testing of the human body in space conditions, as well as the assembly and testing of space suits as worn by the astronauts. The film truly does an amazing job of capturing the intensity as well as the philosophical significance of the mission.
Interestingly, after the film was completed in 1969, there was not much interest in it as the general public had already been saturated with the U.S. space program. In 2007, while researching film footage from the time, filmmaker Christopher Riley tracked down the director Theo Kamecke and eventually released a remastered version of the film restored from the original 35 mm print.
It was around this time that my interest in space science had piqued as I came across an interesting book called Space: The First 50 Years (2007). Sir Patrick Moore, the world’s most famous amateur astronomer, and space photographer HJP Arnold combined their talents to chronicle this exciting period. Featuring the finest images beautifully reproduced, it relives all the amazing advances and discoveries, from the first manned spaceflight to the first moon landing, from the first Space Shuttle to the first probes that went to the outer planets and beyond. The photographs truly capture the drama, scale, and majesty of the Universe.
Another important documentary film is For All Mankind (1989). This film documents the Apollo missions perhaps the most definitively of any film on the period. Between 1968 and 1972, the Apollo program sent nine missions to the moon, each equipped with film equipment to document discoveries and obstacles. Director Al Reinert watched all the footage shot during the missions, over 6,000,000 feet of it, and picked out the best. Instead of being a newsy, fact-filled documentary, Reinert focuses on the human aspects of the space flights. The only voices heard in the film are the voices of the astronauts and mission control. The score by Brian Eno underscores the strangeness, wonder, and beauty of the astronauts' experiences.
When the film was released, most critics praised it such as the New York Post's David Edelstein who wrote, “It amounts to an ode to space travel, and it's awesomely beautiful. You've caught bits and pieces of this footage on TV, but the rhythms of the movie are so supple that everything in it seems new; drifting along with these astronauts and hearing their thoughts, you'll feel as if you're seeing this for the first time.” The Los Angeles Times called it “a remarkable labor of love” and “an unprecedented thrill.”
In the end, Reinert's film is as much about a spiritual quest as anything else. “Touching the moon was, by definition, a work of inspired imagination and high art, and scarcely requires further embellishment,” Reinert wrote. “It speaks for itself more eloquently than it can ever be interpreted: an age-old dream that at long last was fulfilled. The movie is a testament to the power of primitive vision and the strength of human will.” For All Mankind would go on to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary in 1990.