Mankind and the Moon

Our guest blogger is Karen Brattain, a freelance editor. She works for the scientific journal Astrobiology and has edited several books. She is a graduate of the Master's in Writing: Book Publishing program at Portland State University.

I tell everyone who will listen that I want to be the first copy editor in space. Two years of work for a journal that studies planets, moons, and stars has rubbed off on me and propelled my childhood interest in spaceflight to new heights.

Amazing spectacles fill the Cosmos. But I have come to feel that any story or study of the Universe is barren without us in it. The human element of space exploration—our ideas about what lies beyond, our attempts to discover it, and our thoughts about what we have discovered—is really the soul of space exploration. And the television series From the Earth to the Moon captures that soul.

Produced in part by Tom Hanks and Ron Howard, From the Earth to the Moon is a twelve-episode series that ran in the late 1990s. It brings to life the history of mankind’s journeys to, from, and on the Moon. I love that the series tells this story from a variety of perspectives. I am accustomed to seeing the Apollo astronauts as superstars; these episodes also stir me to admire the efforts of the ground crew, the spacecraft designers, the press, and the astronauts’ wives and families.

The first episode, “Can We Do This?” reveals the intense pressure of the space race. The plan to send Americans to the Moon began before we had even put an American in space; as a result, the Mercury and Gemini missions happen at breakneck speed. The consequences of this speed reach a climax in the next episode, “Apollo One,” which covers the devastating loss of astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. This honest and deeply emotional episode hooked me on the series. It is an exceptional performance.

Since then, I have watched the Apollo 7 crew recover from tragedy to complete a successful mission, and I have celebrated as Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders orbited the Moon on Apollo 8. I am not finished with the series, so I am eager to see more. Indeed, it is taking an act of self-discipline for me to finish this review without popping in another episode.

If you want to test the water before diving into twelve episodes, I recommend the film Apollo 13. Directed by Ron Howard, Apollo 13 has an excellent cast, including Tom Hanks, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise, and Kathleen Quinlan. Spaceflight was never so real and suspenseful to me as it was when I watched this film for the first time. Now, after several viewings, I still feel that intensity. And I have developed a soft spot for Mission Control. One of the achievements of the film is that the cast breathes passion into highly technical language and concepts. One actor exclaims, “I need to know if the IU’s correcting for the Number 5 shutdown!” I’m on the edge of my seat!

The Apollo missions show us what humanity can achieve. As Jim Lovell says in Apollo 13, “We live in a world where man has walked on the Moon. It’s not a miracle. We just decided to go.” Working for the common good uplifts us all. Apollo also reminds us how much we have and how valuable it is. Earth, seen from space, is a fragile and fantastic thing. Watch From the Earth to the Moon and Apollo 13. Learn about Earth, the Moon, and humanity.