The main thing to know about an astronaut, if you want to understand his psychology, is not that he's going into space but that he is a flyer and has been in that game for fifteen or twenty years. It's like a huge and very complex pyramid, miles high, and the idea is to prove at every foot of the way up that pyramid that you are one of the elected and anointed ones that have the right stuff and can move even higher and even -- ultimately, God willing, one day -- that you might be able to join that very special few at the very top, that elite who truly have the capacity to bring tears to men's eyes, the very Brotherhood of The Right Stuff itself.(Excerpted from God Knows All Your Names: Stories in American History, by Paul N. Herbert [Google books preview])
A prelude to Apollo, following the beginnings of the manned space race which began with Sputnik, but greatly accelerated after Yuri Gagarin's launch with fears of a "Red Moon," including the flight of Freedom 7, the choice of nine new astronauts to follow the "Original Seven," significant Gemini missions (Ed White's successful spacewalk and the near tragedy of Gemini 8), the fatal jet crash of Bassett and See, and the problems of NASA actually conceiving the mission objectives to send a man to the moon (an almost impossible list).2. "Apollo One"
The disastrous fire that killed Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Ed White in the 1967 plugs-out test is the subject of part two. After the glitch-ridden spacecraft catches fire, the investigative committee endures the fault-finding between NASA and the North American Aviation Company, builder of the command module, focusing mainly on the conflict between Apollo Spacecraft Manager Joe Shea and North American's Harrison "Stormy" Storms, and the resulting Congressional hearings headed by Walter Mondale, who considered the space program a waste of time.3. "We Have Cleared the Tower"
Following the Congressional hearings, the Apollo program struggles to get back on track. A documentary team is shown filming a story about the Apollo 7 mission, interviewing everyone from the Mission Control team to nurse Dee O'Hara to Guenter Wendt, the Launch Pad director to, of course, the crew, which is followed through emergency aborts and sober discussion about the needed success of the mission after the fire.4. "1968"
News footage of the tumultuous events of 1968--the Tet Offensive, rioting, the presidential nominating conventions, escalation in Vietnam, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy--are juxtaposed against the continuing efforts of the Apollo program to achieve their moon landing deadline and the successful test of the Saturn 5 rocket and their discovery of a new Soviet rocket. Thus the decision to send Apollo 8 to the moon without the lunar module.5. "Spider"
How to get to the moon: many ideas--a few offbeat--are posed, but the two primary ideas are, at first, direct ascent and earth orbit rendezvous. Then an engineer named Tom Dolan proposes a "shuttle" approach, a cause taken up by NASA engineer John Houboult, who fights to have the idea considered. When lunar orbit rendezvous is chosen as the way to go, Grumman Aircraft wins the award to build the lunar module. The remainder of the story follows the building, testing and first flight of the LM.6. "Mare Tranquilatis"
A framing sequence of the Apollo 11 astronauts being interviewed by Emmett Seaborn is interspersed with a chronicle of the first moon landing and the conflicts that went on between Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in training for the mission, Aldrin in intensity for the significance of the event and Armstrong in simply wanting to do his job.7. "That's All There Is"
After Apollo 11, the next moon landing had to be an anticlimax--but the crew of Apollo 12 perform their mission with a good-natured attitude that infects this installment. Alan Bean's jaunty narration follows the mission from its ill-starred beginning (lighting having struck the rocket during liftoff) to the successful moonwalk with an unsuccessful camera, interspersed with flashbacks of Bean's friendship with his crewmates Conrad and Gordon and how he won his slot on the mission.8. "We Interrupt This Program"
Apollo 13's ill-fated mission as seen from the point of view of the once-jaded media, whose interest in the space program is suddenly reawakened by the accident in space. As Emmett Seaborn covers the crisis for the fictional NTC network, the ugly head of exploitative journalism raises its head when young hotshot reporter Brett Hutchins does all he can to get exclusive footage of the astronaut's families and finally ambushes Jack Sweigert's elderly parents--and the network approves of his initiative.9. "For Miles and Miles"
Alan Shepard's journey back into space is chronicled. After he is diagnosed with Meniere's disease, a disabling inner ear disorder, Shepard is pulled from flight rotation (indeed is forbidden to fly any aircraft again for months, then only reinstated with a co-pilot). Reassigned to ground duty, Shepard takes his job as mission coordinator seriously but longs to go back into space--his chance comes when an inner ear surgeon suggests a new procedure. When it's successful, Shepard pushes his way back into flight rotation. Malfunctions in the guidance system prove Shepard's mettle and skill.10. "Galileo Was Right"
When the later Apollo mission astronauts are required to learn more about geology, Harrison Schmitt requests that the static minerology lectures they have been enduring be replaced with field work teaching the astronauts to be better field observers. Schmitt then talks eminent geology professor Lee Silver into training his compatriots to be field geologists. The men are skeptical, until they fall under Silver's unorthodox spell and the magic of "context." In the meantime, Farouk El-Baz teaches Al Worden how to observe from above.11. "The Original Wives Club"
The loss of newlywed Ken Mattingly's wedding ring enroute to the moon on Apollo 16 frames a story about the hardships faced by the astronauts' wives. Keeping all worries away from their husbands not to jeopardize their husbands' positions on the flightline and supporting each other during crises leads to strain for many of the wives: shy Pat White is uncomfortable with the publicity that surrounds the astronauts, Susan Borman begins drinking heavily, others feel alienated. In the end, death--and divorce--take their toll on the women of the space program.12. "Le Voyage Dans La Lune"
Blythe Danner's otherworldly narration links two moon flights: the final voyage of Apollo 17 juxtaposed against the first on film, made by pioneer film-maker George Melies. Producer Tom Hanks appears in this final part as one of Melies' assistants, who chronicles the conception and filming of Le Voyage Dans La Lune in Melies' turn-of-the-century French movie studio. In the present, Cernan, Schmitt, and their compatriots reminisce about the final Apollo flight and our reasons for going into space.The series took its title from Jules Verne's novel from 1865 (Project Gutenberg transcription on Archive.org; circa 1900 book scanned on Archive.org; 43 illustrations by Henri de Montaut), but of no other relevance to that early work of science fiction.
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