When We Left Earth



Airdate: 9-11 p.m., Sundays, June 8, 15 and 22 (Discovery Channel).

High definition is not just a way of making video look crisp and bright. It also is a reason for making programs -- maybe the reason -- as "When We Left Earth" suggests.

One can say, as the Discovery Channel does in its press materials, that this comprehensive and authoritative three-part, six-hour miniseries was produced to mark the 50th anniversary of NASA and the U.S. exploration of space. In reality, while there is abundant history on the space program, there is scant information that hasn't already been seen, heard or written somewhere else.

What makes this mini different from all those other projects is that, for the first time, we get to see rare NASA footage -- sort of like the space agency's home video -- that was removed from cold storage and transferred to high definition just for this project.
And what footage it is. Not merely breathtaking space and launch photos but clips that reveal the risks, danger and anxiety of NASA employees and astronaut wives at each new venture.

It is so simple and certain in hindsight, but the NASA films show the palpable tension in Mission Control, like just before Apollo 8 emerged from the dark side of the moon and broke out of lunar orbit. Other highlights include training for the unexpected, fiery rockets and the cool blue of an Earthrise seen from the moon.

In between clips of vintage NASA footage (more than 100 hours of old film was converted to high definition for the project) are bits of recent interviews with astronauts and flight directors, often recollecting events of decades past as if they had just happened that morning.

Like the space capsules themselves, this mini speeds through its mission. Each of the first three hours, for example, is spent, respectively, on the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.

Tune in to learn about the strategy of each launch and for those amazing vintage films. Keep in mind, though, that with the focus so squarely on NASA, there is little reference to other concurrent but related events, such as domestic politics or the Cold War.

Production: Dangerous Films. Executive producer: Richard Dale. Series producer: Kate Botting. Producer: Tim Goodchild. Archive producer: Miriam Walsh. Director: Nick Green. Online editor: Simon Brook. Composer: Richard Blair Oliphant.

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