Apollo: Missions to the Moon Commemorates 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing

National Geographic's Apollo: Missions to the Moon invokes what it was like to be alive when humankind sent humans to the moon.

National Geographic is honoring the 50th anniversary of the moon landing with a new documentary, Apollo: Missions to the Moon. There is no narration. The entire documentary consists of archival footage. Those old enough to have watched the Apollo coverage as it happened may remember some of the footage. However, the film also includes “never-before-heard audio recordings.”

Award-winning filmmaker Tom Jennings directs the documentary. 

“I would hope that audiences when they watch it – when it finishes – they kind of pause for a moment and say,’ Wow! So that’s what it was like,'” Jennings told Den of Geek. “That’s my hope is that they can experience it as close to what it was like to be around during that time.”

The beginning of the film elicits the excitement of the time for the Apollo mission. In press conferences, astronauts invoked the wonder of what it might be like to step on the Moon and the scientific benefits of the mission. However, their wives conveyed fear for their husbands’ safety. After all, they were about to be strapped into the cone of a rocket and sent further than anyone had ever gone. Much further.

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“If you look at where the space station flies, it’s about 250 miles up. The Moon is approximately 250,000 miles away, so the space station is one-tenth of 1% of the distance to the Moon,” says astronaut Mike Massimino.”[It’s] dangerous from the standpoint that they were going a lot further.”

further reading: Mars and The First – Can Fiction Ignite Space Exploration?

Still Massimino, who has flown on three Space Shuttle missions, says spaceflight is not a foolhardy effort.

“I am not a thrill seeker,” says Massimino. “We were talking earlier here amongst us about who would go skydiving, and I’m a definite no. I would only jump out of an airplane if it were on fire. And not only that, if I was pretty sure I was gonna die in that fire. I think that it’s a bit risky, but I think it’s also very calculated and I think it’s worth that risk.”

Massimino says the accomplishments the Apollo astronauts made will never be topped, but he is proud they have been able to continue their legacy and make a lot of progress, especially scientifically. Astronauts participate in a lot of experiments during space flights these days.

“[Apollo Astronaut Michael Collins] came and spoke to our office at a reunion,” recalls Massimino. “He said he would categorize the astronauts of today as masters of complexity because there are so many things going on and you’re up there for so long, and you have to kind of be a jack of all trades.”

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Today’s space news includes headlines about new space companies like SpaceX. When asked if he thinks they elicit a bit of the same excitement as the Apollo program, Massimino says “I do. I wouldn’t say it’s like landing on the Moon.”

“I think governments always have their role in advancing the next frontier in space travel, Massimino continued. “But I think that a very exciting development for me now is that they are transferring from this government-run operation to a more privately run commercialization.”

He still feels nothing will affect the public in the way the getting to the Moon did.

further reading: Can Humans Survive in Space Long Term?

“I think you can go to Mars or whatever,” says Massimino. “It’ll be cool, and people will be interested in the sign of the times, but to impact the world and be an achievement, you can only leave the planet and go somewhere for a first time once. And we’ve done that.”

“The world truly did stop,” Jennings agreed. “We know that from looking at the footage from around the world, and someone asked me that if we get to Mars, will the world stop the same way, and I don’t think it will.”

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“I don’t know where you would go after this to impress the world in the world in which we live today,” Jennings lamented.

“I think that’s okay,” Massimino adds. “I think Apollo 11 was that great of an achievement…It will be the most significant thing that we’ve ever accomplished for another few hundred years. I think maybe the discovery of life somewhere else might do it, but I think it’s going to take something like that. “

“I think the moon landing was a perfect good,” says Jennings. “It was something that everyone could agree on was a good thing. Even my dad was excited and thought it was worth his tax dollars. I think that it’s a reminder of what we can achieve and a reminder of that time. It was surrounded by a lot of chaos in other world events, but it’s a reminder of how good we can be as people. And I think, hopefully, an inspiration for people who never experienced that, the younger people, of what they might try to achieve in the future.”

Apollo: Missions to the Moon will premiere on the National Geographic Channel on Sunday, July 7 at 9 pm Pacific. It will launch National Geographic’s weeklong Space Week.