CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 4. . . .September 23, 2011
Mysteries in the Archives:1969 Live From the Moon.
Julien Gaurichon (Director). Florence Fanelli (Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2008.
26 min., DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153B 9909 272.
Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.
Review by Joanne Peters.
Human flight into space remained the stuff of science fiction until the middle of the twentieth century. Then, in 1961, the Soviet Union (as the Russian Federation was then known) launched Yuri Gagarin into the cosmos, and with that flight, the "space race" was on, in earnest. The race had begun in 1957, with the launch of a satellite, Sputnik, and was followed shortly with sending a dog named Laika into space. Gagarin's flight was a shocking blow to American pride, and in May of 1961, President Kennedy announced to the United States Congress that America's goal would be "landing a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth." (Yes, it was a "man" on the moon – although the Soviets launched Valentina Tereshkova into space a little more than a year after Gagarin, in the United States, decades passed before the first American female astronaut became a mission specialist).
NASA was created, and staggering sums of money were spent as various space missions sent Americans farther into space, for longer periods of time. But, landing on the Moon remained the goal for both countries, and in 1969, the Apollo 11 mission sent three American men into space, with the objective of landing at least two on the lunar surface. While aeronautical technology advanced hugely because of the space program, so, also, did the technology to record the event. Both the Soviets and the Americans were keenly aware of the power of media coverage on the national psyche; however, the Soviets were cautious to report only the successful missions. Space accidents can and do happen. Even prior to the two Space Shuttle catastrophes, American astronauts died due to "major malfunctions." However, 1969 Live from the Moon, of the "Mysteries in the Archives" series, details the incredible gamble taken by the Americans in their non-stop filming of every detail of the mission: setting up the rocket at Cape Canaveral, garbing the astronauts in their cumbersome space suits, and most dramatic of all, the firing of the rockets providing the firepower to launch the space capsule out of the Earth's range.
Journalists from all over the world were provided space and technical support at Cape Canaveral, in order to ensure global coverage of the launch and mission, and the 17 cameras set up at various points along the actual rocket provided real-time video of the lift-off. By the late 1960's, colour photography had become more common in photo journalism, and, certainly, the billowing orange clouds of burning rocket fuel offered viewers a powerful image.
In the "command centre", Mission Control, NASA scientists and technicians were filmed so that they, too, were seen as major players in the enterprise. And, cameras abounded within the astronaut's space capsule, with coverage of their activities timed to ensure transmission to the United States during "prime time." In fact, the actual moon walk was moved up five hours earlier than scheduled in order to ensure that it would be watched during peak viewing hours.
For twenty-first century viewers, the shadowy, grainy, and, at times, blurry black and white photography depicting humanity's first steps of a man on the Moon are a far cry from the colour and clarity of today's high definition television. But, for that era, it was a technical triumph. The moon walk, itself, was a carefully staged and controlled media event, and one would have to be terribly naïve to assume otherwise. Throughout the entire walk, the LEM (lunar excursion module) is perfectly framed in the centre of the view, the astronauts always stay in camera range, and there are no mis-steps. Although the back cover notes of the DVD's case poses the question, "Who, for example, was filming as we watched Armstrong climb down the ladder and step off onto the moon's surface?" that mystery is readily solved. A camera, specially installed on the LEM, took the video footage of the walk, followed by the planting of the American flag on the Moon's surface. The message was clear to the 700 million or so people who watched the event world-wide: Americans had the successfully travelled to the Moon, the United States had asserted its technological supremacy, and, after the walk was over and various scientific investigations were completed, the astronauts returned safely to Earth. No mystery there.
As with other productions from the "Mysteries in the Archives" series, 1969 Live from the Moon details the ways in which news coverage is "managed" and how news is "constructed." Landing a man on the moon was a technological achievement, but it was also a political coup of the highest order. Just as the non-stop news coverage of John F. Kennedy's funeral made television the dominant media for current events, media coverage of the space race showed just how science and technology can be used to serve political ends.
How might 1969 Live from the Moon be used with high school audiences? Certainly it provides an overview of the history of the "space race", a concept probably foreign to students born long after 1969. For students of post-1945 history, it provides another perspective on the Cold War and the tensions which fuelled it. Preview this DVD to determine how your teaching staff might use it, if acquired for your high school library.
A recently retired teacher-librarian, Joanne Peters lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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