"NASA: 50 Years of Space Exploration"
Content Guide & Review

Madacy Entertainment Group has here gathered up a bunch of old low-to-no-cost NASA films, and dumped them onto a five-disc DVD set. The discs and packaging look nice and professional - but unfortunately nothing has been done to restore any of these films and videos before reproducing them, which is highly disappointing. The content is otherwise fascinating, from the point of view of space exploration, flight craft engineering, and also historical development of our world view and reporting techniques.

What follows is a more detailed breakdown of the chapters on each disc and the various films contained within....

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This box set includes the
25 films below...

U.S.

Canada

U.K.

DVD U.S. alternate:

DVD Canada alternate:

Episodes:
1

Freedom 7

(28 min.)
This 1960's documentary film centers on the pioneering flight of Mercury astronaut Alan Shepherd as he becomes America's first man in space, with a very brief recounting of prior automated and chimpanzee flights. Most bizarrely, the narration is in the second person, as if the audience should be in Shepherd's place... an approach that doesn't really mesh well with the impersonal long-shot nature of most of the footage.
2

The Voyage of Friendship 7

(29 min.)
This film briefly recounts the formation of the Mercury Seven astronaut team and the orbital shot of the chimpanzee Enos before focusing on the 5 hour flight of America's first man in orbit John Glenn. Glenn's charismatic observations of the flight, as radioed back to mission control, dominate much of the audio track and are fairly entertaining. There's a propaganda twist in the narration to differentiate Glenn's status from the actual first man in orbit on the Soviet space team, by constant declaration of Glenn representing "free" men and the "free" world.
3

The Four Days of Gemini 4

(27 min.)
This documentary covers the two-man flight of Gemini 4, which is most notable for the first successfully useful human maneuvers outside of a spacecraft by astronaut Ed White. The term Extra-Vehicular Activity, or EVA, is introduced. Also covered are the eleven scientific experiments carried out during the remainder of the four day mission, and the computer problems on the fourth day. After completing over 60 orbits, re-entry is recreated using footage from the unmanned Gemini 2 mission.
4

Gemini 8: This is Houston Flight

(25 min.)
This film begins by showing how flight training simulations prepare NASA and Navy personnel to solve problems quickly and handle abort procedures, and we see the vast numbers of people on stand-by to assist or deal with any space flight emergency. It then covers the Gemini 8 mission, which boasted the first successful brief docking between two vehicles in space, until a problem caused the mission to be aborted early. Astronauts and capsule were recovered successfully in an alternate location around the globe, highlighting the network of Navy ships ever ready to be called into action.

As good as this film is, it's hard to tell who is doing what. Is that Eugene Kranz speaking on camera? How about an identifying subtitle? Neil Armstrong and Jim Lovell are mentioned often, and David Scott once, but which of them are amongst the two astronauts in the Gemini 8 capsule? This is not established in the film; I find myself looking elsewhere to confirm that Armstrong and Scott flew in the capsule, while Lovell was in charge of mission communication on the ground in Houston.

5

Apollo 11: The Eagle Has Landed

(28 min.)
this film actually has credits...
directed by Ted Lowry
edited by Bastian Wimmer

This film is actually quite a satisfying recounting of the historic flight of Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the surface of the moon. Many pieces of now famous footage are played out here at greater length than usual, although still often not completely at full length. Many of the quotes and speeches on the audio track aren't really synced to visuals of the person speaking, and I often couldn't be sure who was talking. Still, this is definitely the best of the five films on this disc by far.

------ Disc 2 ------
6

Apollo 13: Houston, We've Got a Problem

(28 min.)
written and produced by Don Wiseman
edited by Richard L. Atwell

This film combines a lot of media news coverage and interviews of NASA personnel with NASA footage and audio interviews of the three astronauts, as it tells the tale of the aborted moon landing of Apollo 13 that turned into a long series of challenges for space survival. Produced by an outside company for NASA, it is bizarre in its choice to use steel drum band music throughout, ending on an upbeat calypso. Nevertheless, the prolific interviews that include Donald K. "Deke" Slayton and director Eugene Kranz are something that previous films needed more of, and help boost this film's ranking accordingly.

7

Apollo 15: In the Mountains of the Moon

(28 min.)
written and produced by Don Wiseman
edited by Richard L. Atwell

This is one of the most interesting films ever about manned lunar exploration. Geological discoveries take over from engineering logistics for once, which proves to be an excellent trade-off. This is the first lunar landing to deploy a rover car. Astronauts Dave Scott and Jim Irwin land at Hadley Rille, and collect many rocks, including drilled core samples with 58 layers, a find of crystalline, and the "genesis rock". Scott also drops a hammer and feather at the same time, to test Galileo's theory in moon gravity. They also launch a satellite designed to orbit the moon for a year. It's a pity some of the footage is so blurry or overexposed as it would otherwise be spectacular. (Proper restoration, anyone?) I also wonder if the exact same shot of driving up a hill beside a mountain was used 3 times to represent different legs of their journey.

8

Apollo 16: Nothing So Hidden

(28 min.)
written and produced by Don Wiseman
edited by Brian Beasley

The multitude of minor malfunctions on this mission don't seem to faze the enthusiasm of John Young and Charles Duke going to land on the moon, or Ken Mattingly orbiting above them, resulting in one of the most jovial and goofy lunar landing missions ever - and certainly keeping big smiles on everyone at mission control in Houston. Highlights include discoveries of huge black rocks in large craters, some with mysterious "drill holes" already in them. There's also footage here of lunar rover "stunts", and high-jumping salutes.


"Yahoo!!" - Poppin' a Wheelie &
Kickin' up a Batch of Moondust
9

Apollo 17: On the Shoulders of Giants

(28 min.)
written and produced by Don Wiseman
edited by Brian Beasley

Here we follow the exploits of Commander Eugene Cernan, geologist Dr. Harrison "Jack" Schmidt, and orbital module pilot Ronald Evans on their trip to the moon aboard Apollo 17 in December 1972. Though they take along a lunar rover, there isn't any footage of it doing any driving around, just a bit of a fender repair which looks suspiciously like a clean up of Apollo 16's mess. There is a fair bit of fumbling about in bulky suits in low gravity here. The highlight is the discovery of red-orange soil under the grey dust in one region, though time pressures the team to not investigate as fully as they would ideally have liked.

It seems to be widely known and accepted that this will be the last mission to the moon for a long time, and the film plays to that melancholy sentiment. Many personnel at mission control are interviewed, though we really don't get a good idea of what they are doing. Half of the interviews point ahead to new space projects like Apollo-Soyuz, Skylab, and the space shuttle prototype. Since these future projects are ultimately less interesting than Cernan and company on the moon, hyping them only serves to make this the most de-focused of all the Apollo moon mission films.

10

The Mission of Apollo-Soyuz

(29 min.)
written and produced by Bill Watson
edited by Chuck Welch

This film documents the political motivation, planning, and execution of the first docking between American and Russian spacecraft. The charismatic Alexei Leonov (first human EVA) leads the soviet craft with V. Kubasov (first welder in space), while the American Apollo is manned by Air Force General Thomas Stafford (Apollo 10), Deke Slayton (original Mercury 7), and Vance Brandt. The film has many dull sections, but the main sentiment is powerful, the bits of Russian language filtering in are interesting, and some of the experiments tested in space are intriguingly unique. Not bad.

------ Disc 3 ------
11

Skylab: The First 40 Days

(23 min.)
This film centers on the first crew to inhabit the Skylab space station in Earth orbit - new for 1973. A problem deploying shields and solar panels delays the launch of the crew and puts station repair at the top of their list of priorities. The film's highlight is a sequence of zero-G stunts performed light-heartedly by the crew. The film concludes upon this first crew's return to Earth.
12

Four Rooms: Earth View

(28 min.)
written by Rex Cox
edited by Anton Novelli
directed by John Nicholas

Hosted by E.G. Marshall and taking its title from a tongue-in-cheek play on newspaper apartment listings, this film covers all three 1973 missions to the Skylab space station. The re-run of Skylab's initial launch complications is a dull section, but after this the film focuses nicely on the various scientific discoveries made possible by the Skylab environment. You can feel this film serving the added purpose of justifying continued funding of NASA in the public's eye. In conclusion, it seems that no further trips to Skylab were in the works, although it was thought that Skylab's orbit could last another ten years.

13

Opening New Frontiers

(28 min.)

The Orbital Test Flights of the Space Transportation System

This film covers the first four space shuttle missions into orbit, STS-1 through STS-4, all apparently flown by the Columbia. Documented are the various firsts for the system on each flight, as well as a long list of scientific experiments carried out. The fourth landing features a major goal setting speech by president Ronald Reagan, given in front of the test shuttle Enterprise and a huge crowd.
14

We Deliver

(28 min.)

Summary of Shuttle Flights 5, 6, 7 and 8

Operational flights begin with STS-5 for the shuttle Columbia, and continue with flights 6, 7, and 8 for the new shuttle Challenger, as their crews are gradually increased to four people, then five. An average of two satellites are launched from each flight, with later flights picking up a few out of orbit as well. The first of three proposed Tigress satellites gets a lot of coverage, much from animation, as it interacts with several missions in sequence and has some trouble with its trajectory. Flight STS-7 also features the first American woman in space, Sally K. Ride. Shuttles Discovery and Atlantis are still being built at this time. Unfortunately, the audio transfer from film is too compressed, squeezing quiet bits into silence.

15

Launch and Retrieval of Satellites

(19 min.)
This is the best film on disc 3, despite having no proper on-screen title. The subject is the second flight of the shuttle Discovery. Beginning with a post-flight introduction to each of the five crewmembers around a news-conference table, the crew then provide commentary on an 18-minute film of their mission - the best narration on any film in this set. New pieces of equipment making their debut include an EVA "jetpack" allowing astronauts to fly around and maneuver satellites, plus several manual satellite capture tools. This crew also enjoys a good laugh, deliberately creating some fun zero-gravity sight gags in their film.
------ Disc 4 ------
16

Satellite Repairs

(21 min.)
This film is much like the last one: no onscreen title, five astronauts introduced at a press conference table, who proceed to provide commentary for 20-minutes of film from their flight. This is space shuttle flight fifty-one "eye" (51i), an all male crew, who launch two satellites and repair one or two more. Not quite as groundbreaking or jovial as the previous film, but they do manage some good zero-G sight gags of their own.
17

Challenger - Disaster and Investigation

(45 min.)
This film presentation has two distinct sections. The first 15 minutes consist of basic coverage from January 28, 1986, of the 7 astronauts waving at the press, proceeding to the launch tower, donning their launch gear and entering the spacecraft, with "live" commentary giving background details of the astronauts and procedures. This culminates with the launch and shocking disaster itself.

The second section "Space Shuttle Challenger Accident Investigation" is not so much a documentary as a 30 minute presentation of evidence for legal and re-design purposes - a very dry and matter-of-fact layout of findings from film footage, photos, telemetry, and physical evidence building a case of a design weakness.

Included Items:
  1. "Live" Disaster Coverage (15 min.)
  2. Presentation of Evidence (30 min.)
18

NASA - The 25th Year

(50 min.)
written and produced by J.L. Headlee
(no on-screen director credit)

This documentary presents a short history of NASA's achievements over its first 25 year history, beginning with a recap of the NACA aviation organization begun in 1915 which later became NASA on October 1, 1958 when our real story began. The first section covers early satellite history, introduces us to the Mercury Seven astronauts, and covers the American/Soviet space race to the moon. The next section covers a variety of subjects, including space stations and science missions, and automated space probes from the Mariner, Viking, Pioneer, and Voyager series traveling to Venus, Mars, and beyond. Findings at Jupiter, its four big moons, and at Saturn are discussed. Voyager 2's trips to Uranus and Neptune remain in the future tense at the time of this film's production. Finally, the space shuttle program is recounted at some length, as most of its early missions are recounted in some detail.

The only speaking figures appearing in this documentary are U.S. presidents giving public speeches. Narration by Lary Lewman is quite good, however quite often the music is a bit too loud and busy. On the box set by Madacy Entertainment Group, the film transfer appears quick and dirty, without any real restoration or finesse. Imagery is a bit dark and blurry, and sound suffers from lack of balance and clarity. I'm sure the original film could be made to look and sound much better with some Tender Loving Care, which would make this a much more enjoyable piece. In the absence of a copyright notice, I'm assuming this was made in 1983.


------ Disc 5 ------
19

Living in Space - International Space Station

(37 min.)
This DVD Chapter contains about 3 separate films, which rank amongst the most professional and polished-looking pieces in the entire DVD set.

The first film gives a basic timeline of how the various modules of the ISS came together, beginning with the joining of the first two in 1998. This is quite a modern looking documentary, covering events up to about 2002.

The second film is a bit more of a standard NASA operational document, with footage of ISS astronauts Bill Shepherd, Susan Helms, and others going into more specifics about their missions.

The third film "ISS: Realizing the Dream" (10 min.) goes wild interviewing dozens of personnel from many of the 16 different countries that contributed hardware and expertise to the various components, and it becomes a rich and exciting celebration of the international co-operation at the heart of this station.


Included Items:
  1. This is the International Space Station (16 min.)
    • An Invention Made of Parts
    • An Invention for Today and the Future
  2. ISS Video Progress Report - Oct. 2000 (11 min.)
  3. ISS - Realizing the Dream (10 min.)
20

Eyes in the Sky

(16 min.)
This DVD chapter contains two items concerning automated space probes. The first is a fascinating piece beginning with an overview of the various probes at work in our solar system in 2002, as well as probes about to be launched. These include Galileo (to study Jupiter) and Ulysses (to study the sun, via Jupiter). The piece gains focus as geologist Dr. Jim Head takes us through the results of the Magellan spacecraft's efforts to map the surface of Venus - fascinating stuff!

The second piece is titled "Sorce's Five Year Mission", which is like a live sportscast of the Sorce probe's launch, in which our hosts try to bring us up to speed on the solar instigated atmospheric phenomena this probe will measure and why that is important. They managed to totally lose me. Apart from the uniqueness of launching from the underbelly of an airplane, this mostly transitional piece is about as interesting as watching paint dry.


Included Items:
  1. Eyes in the Sky (5 min.)
  2. Sorce's 5 Year Mission (11 min.)
21

One American Legend - John Glenn Returns to Space

(7 min.)
America's first man in orbit in the 1960's, John Glenn, who later became a member of the U.S. Senate, finally gets his second flight into space on October 19, 1998 on the shuttle Discovery, mission no. STS-95. This short piece of coverage shows the astronauts bussing over to the launch pad, the launch, much radio chatter over a view of Earth, a satellite deployment, a quick relayed video interview, and the touchdown. Fellow Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter radios some well wishes to his old partner during the launch.
22

Looking for Creation - "The Hubble Space Telescope"

(38 min.)
This DVD chapter is really four separate sections all dealing with the Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched on April 24, 1990. The first section details the December 1993 shuttle mission to install a corrective lens for the faulty mirror and to repair Hubble's solar panels, featuring a night-sky take-off and landing and congratulations from Bill Clinton. Section 2 features University of Virginia astronomer Robert O'Connell showing how Hubble images help scientists piece together the crash of galaxies M81 and M82.

Section 3 largely resembles section 1 without being half as interesting, as Hubble is serviced in 2002 by another space shuttle crew. Section 4 is a brief and bizarre "promo" montage for Hubble and NASA - the music audio is pretty bad. Madacy then made the bizarre decision to nick the music, effects, and JFK speech from here for use on the menus of all 5 discs in this set, without cleaning any of it up first.

Included Items:
  1. STS-61/Endeavour - 1993 Dec. 2 (16 min.)
  2. HubbleMinute - M81 & M82 (2 min.)
  3. STS-109/Columbia - 2002 Feb. 15 (18 min.)
  4. Hubble Heritage Premiere (2 min.)
23

Where No Man Has Gone - To Mars and Beyond

(10 min.)
This DVD chapter contains two brief films. The first highlights NASA's Goldstone radar complex in California, one of three space antenna dish sites positioned around the globe to receive transmissions from spacecraft and automated probes, information that is then sent to the Jet Propulsion Laboratories site. This section mentions the Magellan craft then mapping the surface of Venus as the film was being made.

The second item takes us on a tour outwards through the solar system, mentioning observations our probes have made on Mars, and while highlighting the Voyager probes, covering Jupiter, its moons Io, Ganymede, and Callisto, and Saturn. Nicely, speculation listed here entertains the idea that the asteroid belt might be the remains of a planet. (Maldek, anyone?) Also mentioned quickly are Europa, Uranus, and Neptune. The narration is careful to hide the fact that the Voyager probes did not actually visit Pluto as it is discussed, before quickly mentioning the scale of interstellar distances and our sun's place in orbit around the galaxy.


Included Items:
  1. Goldstone Radar Reception (4 min.)
  2. Mars and other Probes (6 min.)
24

The Story of Columbia

(32 min.)
This DVD chapter contains several items. First up is a brief look at Columbia's maiden voyage from April 1981, as it became the first of the space shuttles to get a mission into outer space.

All other items focus on Columbia's last flight: STS-107 in January 2003. All seven crewmembers give pre-flight interviews about what inspired them to aim their careers toward space. We then get some footage from the launch, and a lot of footage of the scientific experiments that occupied much of the crew's time in space. We see the faces of mission controllers on Earth as contact with Columbia is lost during re-entry, 16 minutes away from touchdown. Finally, we get a sad montage of eulogies for the seven crewmembers and the Columbia spacecraft herself, from a variety of people including George Bush, Jr. There is no actual footage of the February 1st re-entry break-up of the craft, nor any of investigation of the cause.

25

A Look Into the Future: Aero-Space Plane

(3 min.)
This is a promotional corporate video for the proposed wide-nosed X-30 Space Plane, hoping to begin offering flights in the late 1990's. Well, it's 2016 now. Whatever happened to this plane design?

Favourite Films:

  • ISS-3: International Co-operation
  • Apollo 15: In the Mountains of the Moon
  • NASA - The 25th Year
  • Apollo 11: The Eagle Has Landed
  • Eyes in the Sky 1: Magellan Maps Venus
  • Apollo 16: Nothing So Hidden
  • Apollo 17: On the Shoulders of Giants
  • Launch and Retrieval of Satellites
  • Apollo 13: Houston, We've Got a Problem

  • Hubble 2: The Hubble Minute Galaxies M81 & M82
  • ISS-1: Living in Space: International Space Station
  • To Mars and Beyond
  • The Four Days of Gemini 4
  • The Mission of Apollo-Soyuz
  • Opening New Frontiers (STS-1 to STS-4)
  • Gemini 8, this is Houston Flight
  • Satellite Repairs
  • We Deliver (STS-5 to STS-8)
  • The Voyage of Friendship 7 (John Glenn in Orbit)
  • Freedom 7

  • ISS-2 [Video Progress Report]
  • Hubble 1: 1993 repair "Looking for Creation"
  • Skylab: The First 40 Days
  • John Glenn Returns to Space
  • The Story of Columbia
  • Aero-Space Plane

  • Hubble 3: 2002 repair
  • Eyes in the Sky 2: Sorce's Five Year Mission

  • Challenger: Disaster and Investigation
  • Hubble 4 & promos (bad creepy audio)

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Plus, each of the 5 discs has its own photo montage (1 min. each), trivia quiz, and text info pages:

Disc 1: - Biographies of Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin
Disc 2: - "Biographies" of Apollo Missions 13 and 17
Disc 3: - Biographies of Paul J. Weitz and Joseph P. Kerwin (veterans of Skylab 2)
Disc 4: - "Biographies" for "Challenger" and "Space Firsts"
Disc 5: - "Biographies" for "International Space Station" and "Columbia 2003"


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