I’ve been a fan of the U.S. space program since I was a kid. In 1981, I watched as the Space Shuttle Columbia blasted off on April 12. I was transfixed. I don’t know when I first learned of Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong and the moon landing, but it was likely before Columbia. Regardless, I thought I pretty much knew everything there was to know about Apollo 11—through books, movies and documentaries—until I watched Make It to the Moon.
Debuting Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT on Discovery, this Canadian production unearthed a treasure trove of information. While 600 million people watched the first astronauts land on the moon on July 20, 1969, four teams contracted by NASA played crucial roles in the historical moment were unknown to most.
“What people know about the Apollo program is the mission control and astronaut story,” says Maria Knight, Make It to the Moon producer and director. “What people don’t realize is how many people were involved to get this off the ground. President Kennedy really did harness the entire technological power of the U.S. in order to pull this off.” Narrated by Golden Globe-nominated Canadian actor Stephan James, the two-part project truly is an international affair, jetting to Australia to interview former employees of the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station, most famous for receiving and relaying the television images of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon.
Virtually every piece for the mission was built from scratch, with four organizations embracing the challenge: Honeysuckle Creek; the Grumman Aircraft Corporation designed and built the first-ever lunar lander; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created groundbreaking navigational software and shrunk a computer the size of a semi-trailer to one-cubic-foot so it could fit onboard the lunar module; and the International Latex Company, best known for its Playtex bras and girdles, stitched a new kind of space suit by hand.
After eOne did the legwork, contacting former workers at the four companies, Knight and her team sat down and interviewed them. Though it’s 50 years later, their eyes light up with excitement recalling the rush to complete the project and ensure the U.S. was the first country to conquer the moon.
“Most of these people got jobs in the Apollo program straight out of college and I think the average age of the program was mid-20s,” Knight says. “Can you imagine graduating from university and, in the case of Don Eyles, [ending up] writing the code for the lunar lander?
“Technology is so fast-moving for us right now and there is sort of a blasé feel about it,” Knight continues. “We want to show how extraordinary this accomplishment was and bring a bit of awe into what these people accomplished.”
Make It to the Moon airs Sunday, July 14, at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT on Discovery.
Images courtesy of Bell Media.