Fifty years ago to this day, astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon, when the United States of America pulled off the world’s first manned lunar mission. To mark the anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969, Discovery Channel is airing a two-hour documentary, Apollo: The Forgotten Films at 9 pm on Saturday.
Reportedly featuring forgotten and never-before-seen footage from events surrounding the landmark mission, the documentary by Duncan Copp traces the decade’s worth of effort involving half a million scientists that was required to enable that “one giant leap for mankind”. The film also features audio and video captured on the spaceflight and interviews with scientists, engineers and other key figures to recreate the days and minutes leading up to the historic moment. The footage has been sourced from National Aeronautics and Space Administration centres, the United States government’s The National Archives and old news reports, according to Discovery Channel’s website.
The documentary opens at the NASA facility at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, where the Apollo 11 crew is suiting up three hours before the launch. Three astronauts were on that spacecraft: Neil Armstrong, who was the mission’s commander, Buzz Aldrin, the second person to set foot on the moon, and Mike Collins, who stayed in the lunar orbit while his colleagues explored the moon’s surface.
The footage shows the tense moments in the control room in the lead-up to lift-off and the crowds milling outside. An engineer describes the challenges of making the Saturn V rocket that propelled the astronauts to the moon. Inside the spacecraft, the trio exchange notes, interspersing small talk with big exclamations as they see the Earth from afar after entering its orbit. A highlight is the reactions of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins when they first catch a close glimpse of the moon. “Fantastic! Look at the mountains,” says Collins. “My gosh, they’re monsters.”
Apollo: The Forgotten Films frequently flits between the events leading up to the Apolo 11 flight and the larger eight-year ground-laying for that mission. It all began when President John F Kennedy, on May 25, 1961, announced that the United States should make it a goal to land a man on the moon and bring him safely back to earth before the end of the decade. This came amid the Cold War era’s Space Race between America and the Soviet Union to surpass each other in spaceflight capabilities. In April 1961, Soviet pilot Yuri Gargarin became the first man to enter outer space, and the United States decided to up the ante. The 1969 spaceflight was preceded by a series of missions through which the United States inched closer to the lunar rock. This included the heartbreaking Apollo 1 mission, in which three astronauts were killed in a fire in their spacecraft during a trial run.
The documentary not only revisits these events in rich detail, but also communicates the sheer scale of the mission, and the humans, money and resources that America put in to fulfill its extra-terrestrial ambitions.