July 20th, 2009


Apollo anniversary TV

To celebrate the anniversary of the moon landing, we've been watching a lot of Apollo-related TV. Apollo 13 was on here a couple of nights ago, but as we have it on TV, we decided we'd watch an ad-free version. Instead we saw two episodes of From the Earth to the Moon: Spider (one of my favourites, about the engineers who designed and built the lunar module) and of course Mare Tranquilitatis. If you've never seen this series and are interested in the subject, I recommend it highly; it's out on DVD. Each ep is directed by a different person in a different style, and every one is excellent.

We've also been watching an ITN series covering each day of the mission in 10-minute segments a day as if it's all happening right now, and last night we saw a Welsh program about several Apollo wives who have an annual reunion. They were fascinating, and though most were divorced or widowed, all spoke with wonder of the experience of watching a lift-off: how the ground shook, how they shook, how even the fish leapt in the lake, disturbed by the deep vibrations and sound. The last lift-off was at night, and it lit the sky like the sun. You could see the awe in their faces as they remembered. There was some bitterness too, that they were left in Houston while the astronauts lived it up with groupies in Florida, that the widow of Roger Chaffee (Apollo 1 fire) got just $2000 on his death and little else, and that they were all expected to be perfect wives, constantly on show, well groomed etc on the service pilot salaries of their husbands. For one formal ball, they all went to a Houston thrift shop and bought second-hand gowns. One of them who had a particularly nasty divorce right after her child died of leukaemia wrote a song as therapy and played it on the ukulele: "You can be macho, you can be spotless, you can be wonderful--on your own." They called the press the "death watch" and used to use the standard phrase "I'm thrilled, proud, and happy" when asked how they felt about a mission. There was even a self-mocking picture of three of them, back then in the 60s, holding up signs: THRILLED, PROUD, HAPPY. :-)

Oh yes, and we saw a fun James May doco in which he did some of the Right Stuff tests, went up in a U2 to the edge of space (a long-time ambition) and met two astronauts: Al Bean (a very good artist who tries to convey the feeling of being on the moon in his pictures) and scientist Harrison Schmitt (astrogeology). Shouldn't that be lunageology? :-)