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America's Space Pioneers

7 May, 2006 By: John Latchem

To me, landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth was one of the greatest achievements not only of the 20th century, but of all time.

A nearly complete picture of America's Cold War race to the moon against the Soviet Union is available in a virtual boxed set of two films and a cable miniseries.

First up is The Right Stuff (available in a two-disc special edition from Warner Home Video), a terrific adaptation of Tom Wolfe's novel about test pilots and how being chosen as an astronaut doesn't necessarily make a pilot any better than one who wasn't.

Up next is Apollo 13 (available in a two-disc anniversary edition from Universal Studios Home Entertainment), eminently quotable and easily one of my favorite films, chronicling the star-crossed 1970 lunar mission, and how hundreds of mission controllers on Earth worked to save the three-man crew after an explosion crippled the ship. The film is a testament to the spirit of adventure and the risks involved in exploring new places.

Tom Hanks' experience starring in Apollo 13 inspired him to produce the 12-part HBO miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon” (HBO Video), which looks at the whole of the lunar program. The early days are touched on, but the focus is on the 24 men who flew to the moon and all those who had a hand in getting them there. Each of the Apollo missions is given the spotlight in an episode — from the tragedy and investigation of the Apollo 1 fire, to the historic 1969 Apollo 11 landing, to the good ol' boys of Apollo 12 and the final landing of Apollo 17.

These films leave us to reflect why today, when it would be relatively easy to return to the moon, most people don't seem to care about doing it.


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