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From Earth to the Moon August 13, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Watching this and very much enjoying it. Peculiar to see all the old hands – or now old hands – from contemporary TV turn up. If you like Justified, the Good Wife, er… Monk, or any number of programmes you’ll see many a familiar, albeit much younger, face, but it’s remarkably well done.

Effects are good and unshowy, the episode on Apollo One was quite moving and while the soundtrack music is a little West Wing, in so far as it attempts to underscore events unnecessarily, overall it works very well.

The sheer challenge involved of getting to the Moon from the original Kennedy speech in just about eight years is mapped out in forensic detail. But one further aspect is that far from the astronauts (unfortunately all male, but those were the times) being unimaginative, they were continually awestruck by the momentous nature of their work.

One also gets a real sense of this as a state endeavour, that NASA wasn’t private enterprise but rather the US state bending its will, and the private sector too, towards an epochal goal. And there is the thought that NASA was explicitly a civilian agency, albeit with many ex-military involved. No small thing in the context of the Cold War.
Other thoughts arise. It’s clear now that the Shuttle was a distraction, pushing human activity to low earth orbit for three decades subsequent to Apollo, albeit with some important triumphs. But it’s unclear what alternative would there have been with the challenge of the Moon addressed and all else still well ahead of the then available technology.

Perhaps, as Stephen Baxter and others have mapped out, we would have seen L5 and cislunar orbiting space labs or proper moon bases, human missions to Mars and Venus. Or perhaps we wouldn’t, perhaps an ever increasingly truncated space programme would have left us much where we are today, or even in worse straits.

Tom Hanks produced and I think directed this, and made a serious effort to look at the areas of the space programme which hadn’t been addressed on film or television priory to that. Some of those stories are perhaps less interesting, but… at least the effort is made to consider them.


1. GW - August 14, 2016

Looks interesting.

The space programme in the US wouldn’t have developed IMO without previous experiences of two, large, expensive state-directed and financed research projects – the Manhattan project and the drive to industrialise the production of Penicillin.

The one was directed at killing many thousands to millions as it did in Japan, and the second saved many millions of lives, starting with Allied wounded in WW11.

Before antibiotics large number of soldiers would expect to die of their wounds (especially blast wounds which literally drive bacteria deep into the body) and after Penicillin started to be manufactured by the ton – a major achievement of (industrial) chemistry – soldiers had antibiotic powder spread on their wounds at the front and when they reached hospital were pumped full of ridiculous amounts of penicillin. A small percentage probably died of allergy to the drug but the vast majority didn’t run the risk of septicemia.

I might be utterly geeky but I could see that making a great series – the British research team that initially developed the process and the American industrialisation by multiple drug companies and subsequent deployment could be made very visual and dramatic.


WorldbyStorm - August 14, 2016

That’s a great point re penicillin. It’s astounding to see how late in the day it appeared and how massive a change it was.


gendjinn - August 14, 2016

Initially Churchill refused to clear penicillin for soldiers with STDs even though that would return more, healthier men to the front line quicker. He insisted that it be reserved for wounded men only.

One can admire the principle but then one must also balance that with the cost to the war effort and therefore an increase in the butcher’s bill. It’s a good mixed bag for a debate for sure.

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Michael Carley - August 14, 2016

And to continue the historical chain, Willie Whitelaw got the gig of AIDS policy in the Thatcher government because when he had been an army officer one of his jobs was dealing with STIs in squaddies so he was not at all squeamish or prudish about talking about sexually transmitted diseases and how to prevent them.

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gendjinn - August 14, 2016

Agree with your post but on a point of fact:

Fleming made an observation then dropped the ball. It was a couple of American microbiologists reviewing old literature for exactly such ball drops that discovered penicillin and then brought it to production.

Outside of the UK Fleming is held in very poor esteem by biologists, useless dilettante that couldn’t be fired because of connections and just f*cked things up for everyone else in the lab. They try to play up his “wasn’t he such a polymath making those great bacterial paintings” but in actual fact, all he was good at was those paintings.

It’s one of those trade “secrets” that all biologist graduates know but doesn’t really get talked about outside the field, because who needs the hassle.


WorldbyStorm - August 14, 2016

This I didn’t know. Cheers. Strange isn’t it how written history shifts around actual events


gendjinn - August 14, 2016

Isn’t it though? Tones of Derrida.

Here’s another one for ye: Ben Tidey note the passive voice on the deaths of Kelly & Sheehan. Hopefully the truth will come out – they were shot from behind by incompetent Gardaí. They behaved with criminal negligence but it was all swept under the rug. You know, careers, extortion, blackmail.

House of Cards isn’t that much of a fiction 😉


2. GW - August 14, 2016

BTW – and I’d be interested in the aeronauticists’ view on this – today may be the 115th anniversary of the first powered man flight.

Watched a documentary on Arté recently about the claims of Gustave Whitehead/Weißkopf to have made the first powered flight in 1901 on the 14th of August.

There’s a lot that speaks for the claim – he was an expert a light-weight motors and no one has been able to make a reproduction of the 1903 Wright plane fly. The 1908 two-seater certainly did fly and the suspicion is that some of the photographs purporting to be from 1903 are of this model.

The Wrights – especially Orville – new how to play the PR game as entrepreneurs – and had a highly dubious contract with the Smithsonian museum which forced it to promote their primacy in manned flight.

Weißkopf by contrast was a mechanical genius who relied on funding by others, and went back to being a factory worker when his business went bust.

Whatever the Model 21 is a beautiful object – very much in the line of Lilienthal manned gliders.

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WorldbyStorm - August 14, 2016

That’s fascinating about the Wrights and Whitehead. Both flights would have taken place in the US but the time difference is amazing. It really was a point where the ability to fly was imminent.


Michael Carley - August 14, 2016

The claim about that first flight sounds all wrong: steam power (big enough to need stoking) was never a runner for heavier-than-air flight. The rest doesn’t sound impossible, but does sound unlikely.


3. gendjinn - August 14, 2016

It is a great series alright and the movie Apollo 13 is also outstanding.

There’s a book I can’t find a reference to (early 2ks/late 90s) that went into detail showing that the entire moon mission was really about developing ICBMs. There was no other way to get the public to fund such a military boondoggle then. Now we’ll fund the F35 no matter how many know the flaws and price.

If it really was science and exploration we are so relentlessly fed then it wouldn’t have stopped dead when they’d perfected the rocketry needed for nuclear exchanges and then focused LEO stealth delivery vehicles.

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