You can feel the exasperation coming off space pioneers like astronaut Jim Lovell and scientists including Neil deGrasse Tyson in this new documentary about why America abruptly ended human space travel after the Apollo missions. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
When President John F. Kennedy pronounced that America would embark on an ambitious program to land humans on the moon by the end of the 1960s, he reminded the country that we do these things not because they’re easy but because they’re hard.
Indeed it was hard. But getting there, not just once but seven times (via NASA’s Apollo 11 through 17 missions), not only was a game-changing national achievement, it inspired wide-eyed kids to pursue science, sparked technological innovations that improved our daily lives, and set the stage for building a permanent moon base and a mission to Mars.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Fight for Space,’ a documentary written and directed by Paul J. Hildebrandt. 92 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Varsity.
But like a Lamborghini driven a few times and left to rot in a shed, U.S.-backed space exploration involving astronauts came to an abrupt end.
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The equally electrifying and agonizing new documentary “Fight for Space” reminds us the realization of Kennedy’s plans for early space travel is now a distant memory, and our government has not since found the will or means to build upon it.
Director Paul Hildebrandt bundles the incredulity and disappointment of multiple interviewees (astronauts Jim Lovell and Story Musgrave, former NASA honcho John Logsdon, science advocates Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye) into one big ball of frustration that nearly turns “Fight for Space” into a portrait of American haplessness.
But Hildebrandt’s liberal use of archival footage of happier times for NASA and his flashes of cheekiness (Marvin the Martian from Warner Bros. cartoons makes an appearance) keep things aloft. More importantly, the perspective he offers about the moon landings as a limited Cold War calling, the numbing “busywork” of the subsequent space-shuttle program, and the ups and downs of presidential ambitions in space help explain why the government doesn’t do more while the private sector (e.g., Elon Musk’s SpaceX) may be picking up the slack.