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Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes Of Apollo

Doc retells fascinating anecdotes from the "founding fathers" of the Apollo space programme; sadly women are conspicuous in their absence, but the filmmaker finds a clever solution for such lack of representation

From the same team that brought us the science doc Last Man on the Moon (Mark Craig, 2016), comes a new movie chartering the extraordinary achievements of a group of men who were at the heart of the Apollo space programme. Mission Control -The Unsung Heroes of Apollo is a bold and ambitious undertaking and focuses mostly on those who were as far away from glory as anyone could be in those extraordinary times. The film is mostly made up of archive footage, CG reenactments and a series of talking head interviews with these legendary figures. Highlighting the dynamic that existed between the people working tirelessly at mission control and the men they sent into space, the film is a genuine treasure trove of fascinating anecdotes spanning decades in the life of the American space programme.

The Mission Control team at NASA was at the heart of the US space programme which gained notoriety as the race intensified between the US and Russia to put the first man in space and later on the moon. Directed by David Fairhead and produced by Keith Haviland and Gareth Dodds, the film offers a compelling, yet not completely new story. With the help from Teesside University animation department which provided most of the CG reenactment, Fairhead offers a fairly straightforward story, with an exhilarating narrative arc. At the heart of the story, is the extraordinary retelling of the Apollo 13 mishap, and the near misses and fatal accidents that took place during that time.

In the absence of any historical female representation, Fairhead uses current female engineers working at Mission Control to introduce the men they refer to as “the founding fathers” of their profession. Although this is a stroke of genius on the part of the director, there remains a fact that the subject of women at NASA, or lack thereof, was not once approached here. As we delve deeper into the personalities of these brilliantly qualified boffins, it transpire that they are made up from men born against a backdrop of economic turmoil of the ’20s and ’30s as well as global conflict. Some came from a rural upbringing, while others grew up in blue-collar working class America. Referred to by JFK as “the most hazardous, dangerous, and greatest adventure upon which mankind has ever embarked”, the Apollo space programme saw these men rise to the challenge in an extraordinary fashion and work hard out of duty and out of sheer love for the job.

Publicity image from Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes Of Apollo

The documentary is at its best when it recounts the number of hairy moments encountered by the team, and the way they dealt with them. At no point does the story line attempt to sell these historical accounts as anything new, even when it uses suspense in retelling them. The absence of narration is also interesting, as it allows for the story to flow without any other constraints. Having the men tell these stories in their own way, adds a dose of trepidation and excitement as we see them reliving these historic moments decades later.

Despite the compelling nature of the film, it is hard to see who it could be aimed at. It isn’t quite brainy enough to appeal to those interested in the space program, and fails to bring anything groundbreaking to appeal to the layman. On the whole Mission Control is a brilliantly made documentary which is sure to appeal to TV audiences around the world, but one must wonder if anyone would go out of their to watch to on DVD or on a big screen. Perhaps a documentary chartering women engineers would have had more of an impact, especially after the huge success seen by this year’s surprise hits Hidden Figures.

Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes Of Apollo is available globally and on demand on Friday April 14th – just click here in order to pre-order it on iTunes. Meanwhile don’t forget to watch the film trailer below:

Read here in order to read our exclusive review of last year’s Last Man on the Moon.

By Linda Marric - 10-04-2017

Linda Marric is a freelance film journalist and interviewer. She has written extensively about film over the last decade. After graduating with a degree in Film Studies from King’s College Londo...

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