On July 20, 1969, millions of Americans were huddled around their TV sets to watch Neil Armstrong step onto the moon and say that memorable line, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Even though the country was torn apart because of the ongoing Vietnam War, we came together during the days of the Apollo 11 mission. I was home from college, and I remember sitting in our living room and watching with my parents and siblings. It was one of those moments that becomes seared in memory. Probably one reason films about the U.S. space program remain so popular.
But nothing, including the recent First Man, starring Ryan Gosling as Armstrong, can touch the drama in the new documentary film edited, produced, and directed by Todd Douglas Miller which uses archival footage to remind us about this spectacular mission. Other than occasional commentary by CBS icon Walter Cronkite, the film does not depend on narration or interviews. Instead, we see the three astronauts – Commander Armstrong, Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin, and Command Module Pilot Michael Collins – as they suit up and take their places in the spacecraft. The three astronauts were backed up by an impressive array of NASA engineers and officials. We see these officials glued to their screens, monitoring every minute of this groundbreaking mission.
We know how this trip to the moon will unfold. But we are still on the edge of our seats the entire time. Whether it’s watching the lift off, the entry into outer space, or the landing on the moon, we wonder whether what we are watching will have a positive outcome. That anxiety registers on the faces of those NASA experts who know they have done everything possible to make this moon landing a success, but know that anything can go wrong. Not until the three men splash down in the ocean near Hawaii, do we breathe a sign of relief.
A few things stand out when watching this 1969 event in 2019. Women, except for the astronaut wives or the many who are spectators, are absent. In future missions, women not only were behind the scenes, but were actually astronauts. The emphasis on enlisting more women into the sciences is aimed at further changing that dynamic.
The fascination with space continues. The Spacex success tells us that. But for a look back to one of the most important events in our conquest into space, Apollo 11 tells that story. Make sure to see it in IMAX for the full effect.
Photo courtesy of Neon CNN Films