In commemoration of the 40th anniversary of man’s landing on the Moon, Acorn Media has released Apollo 11 – A Night to Remember, a 2006 BBC4 two-hour documentary created from archival footage. Hosted by astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, the special presents the Apollo 11 mission, which took astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin to the Moon and back.
After President Kennedy’s speech in 1961 to a joint session of Congress where he stated “that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth,” his idea was realized in July 1969. Much of the footage will look very familiar to those who witnessed the event or space enthusiasts who have seen it since, but this special allows viewers to see it as the British audience did, with commentary from the BBC news desk and filmed reports by James Burke, who was granted access to the equipment used by NASA and was given a plane ride that simulated zero-G. It’s interesting to see the Moon landing presented from another country’s perspective, because while it was an American endeavor, Armstrong made his famous leap for all mankind.
What’s most impressive is that this footage wasn’t shot dramatically and the events and some key phrases are all well known, but they remain fascinating to relive or to witness for the first time. The tension builds as the countdown starts at about six minutes, turning into excitement once the countdown hits ten. People can be heard cheering as the rocket takes off to its celestial destination in a blaze of glory.
The Eagle lunar module, carrying Armstrong and Aldrin, landed in the Sea of Tranquility. A camera underneath the module captures their approach. Soil samples are collected and the United States flag is planted. The latter causes Moore to comment that there is no fluttering, an allusion to the Moon landing deniers who claim a wind, which wouldn’t exist there, moves the flag. President Nixon congratulates the men and in the closing credits we see that they returned and were placed in quarantine.
During the slow parts of the documentary as the astronauts do their work and the images remain basically the same, my imagination occasionally wanders to sci-fi stories I remember even though I know nothing happened and they return safely.
When you look back four decades at any technology, it almost always looks very primitive, making the success of the Apollo 11 mission somewhat surprising. There were quite a number of dedicated individuals responsible for making this moon landing a reality. The notion of people working on a positive, common goal is inspiring and speaks well of the human spirit. Surpassing limitations is an aspiration our species should always strive for.
The video ranges in degree of quality, but its historical significance more than makes up for its lacks. There are two extras: a biography about astronomer and program host Sir Patrick Moore, and an episode of the BBC’s monthly series The Sky at Night from September 27, 1960, which focused on the first pictures of the far side of the moon taken by Russian probe Lunik 3 in October 1959.
Apollo 11 – A Night to Remember is a great DVD for fans of science and history.