The Walk on the Moon’s 50th Anniversary celebrated with TV specials

50 years ago the world gathered around the nearest television set and watched the lunar landing that celebrated “… one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

 It was one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century when Apollo 11 blasted off in July 1969, sending astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the moon and back. It took about three days to get into the moon’s orbit, then Armstrong and Aldrin were the first humans to touched down on the lunar surface on July 20, and NASA won the space race over the USSR.

 With the 50th anniversary upon us, it’s time to look back at that trip to the moon with a series of specials that remind us how monumental it was and how it changed the world.

National Geographic’s feature documentary APOLLO: MISSIONS TO THE MOON premieres Sunday, July 7 on the Nat Geo Channel. Executive produced and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Tom Jennings (Challenger Disaster: Lost Tapes; Diana: In Her Own Words), this intimate, immersive account captures the history of NASA’s Apollo Space Program — from the ill-fated Apollo 1 mission that claimed the lives of three astronauts to the final expedition that brought the program to a successful close.

Using Jennings’s signature style of first-person storytelling to take viewers behind the scenes, the two-hour film weaves together more than 500 hours of footage, 800 hours of audio, and 10,000 photos, including never-before heard recordings and rare photos of all 12 crewed missions. APOLLO: Missions to the Moon is not just a film, it’s an experience.

  Now let’s splashdown on PBS which has declared this the “Summer of Space.” Some of the best programs celebrating space exploration are scheduled for PBS SoCal, including AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Chasing the Moon, NOVA: The Planets, and KCET’s original documentary miniseries Blue Sky Metropolis which chronicles the history of aerospace in Southern California.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Chasing the Moon, airing July 8-10 on PBS SoCal, brings the Space Age to vivid life. The six-hour three-night documentary takes viewers through the earliest days of the space race to the 1969 moon landing with a mix of scientific innovation, political and media spectacle, and personal drama.

Filmmaker Robert Stone offers a visual feast of rare footage and new interviews with a diverse cast of characters who played key roles in the historic events. One person who is introduced is Poppy Northcutt, a mathematics whiz who at age 25 was the first woman to serve in the all-male bastion of NASA’s Mission Control. Starting in 1965, she worked on the “return to earth” issues.

Northcutt was at the Television Critics Association’s winter 2019 TCA press tour and said that, during troubled times in our country, the moon mission “was a unifying purpose for us. People all over the planet were paying attention. That was a singular event that we all remembered and took pride in this achievement. We still have so many great things that we can do, and we should start doing them.”

 Blue Sky Metropolis is a series of four one-hour episodes premiering Sunday, July 14 on KCET. Written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Peter Jones, it reveals the untold story of how aerospace was central to the growth of California and its emergence as an economic power. 

 Why did Southern California become the aerospace capital of the world? Jones reported, “I approached this series as a treasure hunt, investigating the many ways the aerospace industry deeply affected the growth of modern Los Angeles. There’s a culture of secrecy surrounding this industry that has made its history a mystery to the world. It’s thrilling to explore so much uncharted territory.”

 Among the experts giving their input to the fascinating series are Director of Jet Propulsion Laboratory (2001-2016), Charles Elachi, and VP of Space Systems Division for Northrop Grumman, Sarah Willoughby.

  PBS also explores the galaxy with NOVA: The Planets, a five-part series airing July 24-August 21. With breathtaking visuals it showcases the awesome beauty of the planets, including Mars’s ancient waterfalls, Saturn’s rings, and Neptune’s cosmic winds. Viewers are going to learn stuff about the planets that will blow their minds.

 At TCA Dr. Ashwin Vasavada, Project Scientist, Curiosity Mars Rover, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explained, “Mars and Earth were so similar in their youth. But Mars’ smaller size made it cool faster. That led to it losing its magnetic field, and that allowed the sun to strip away its atmosphere. Mars went from a world that was a lot like Earth today, warm with water, to a place that’s now cold and barren for the last 2 billion years. It makes you nostalgic for Mars in its youth, where it was a place that was probably as friendly to life as Earth is now.”

 PBS will also have a space-themed Antiques Roadshow airing July 8; NOVA: Back to the Moon on July 10; 8 DAYS: To The Moon & Back on July 17; and Ancient Skies on July 24, to satisfy every stargazer.

[photos courtesy NASA]

Margie Barron has written for a wide variety of outlets including Gannett newspapers, Nickelodeon, Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine, Fresh!, Senior Life, Production Update, airline magazines, etc. Margie is also proud to have been half of the husband & wife writing team Frank & Margie Barron, who had written together for various entertainment and travel publications for more than 38 years.