Fifty years ago, the Eagle landed on the Sea of Tranquility. Six hours later, Neil Armstrong stepped off the Lunar Excursion Module on the surface of the moon.
For the last month, a plethora of documentaries and series about Apollo 11 have flooded television channels and streaming services, providing a look back at the mission to the moon.
The best of the bunch is “Apollo 11,” which will have its final free airing on CNN 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Saturday,
This spectacular documentary is presented without narration, utilizing film clips, television footage, radio transmissions and the commentary of CBS newsman Walter Cronkite to follow Apollo 11 from the ground to the moon.
Gripping and illuminating, “Apollo 11,” which had a short theatrical run, is the best single documentary about the ‘60s space program that have flooded the airwaves over the last months
The best three-part PBS American Experience series, “Chasing The Moon,” now available for streaming at pbs.org, is a superb history of the space program -- from the 1940s to the end of the Apollo program in the early ‘70s that includes not just the American space efforts but the competition with and details of the Soviet Union program that pushed the U.S. up to the day Apollo 11 landed on the moon.
“Chasing The Moon” chronologically tells its story from German scientist and former Nazi Wehner Von Braun’s early rocket development through the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions.
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It does so through recollections of astronauts, including Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin,” the second man on the moon and Michael Collins, who flew the Apollo 11 command module, while Armstrong and Aldrin were on the lunar surface and from astronaut’s wives.
Journalists who covered the space program provide context for the footage, as does Soviet rocket engineer Sergei Khruschev, the son of the former premier Nikita Khrushchev. The series includes footage of the Russian space program, some of which has not previously been seen in the west.
It also highlights NASA engineer Poppy Northcutt, a 25-year-old math whiz who became the first woman to work in Mission Control, and Ed Dwight, who was slated to be the first black astronaut but never made it into space.
In addition to the Soviet films, the series uses much little or unseen NASA films along with television from the era, from NBC and ABC as well as CBS.
Saturday also marks the HBO premiere of “First Man,” the acclaimed, and fairly accurate 2018 bio-pic about Armstrong. The Oscar-winning picture follows Armstong, who is very well played by Ryan Gosling, from 1961, as an X-15 test pilot through the moon mission, focusing almost as much on his relationship with his wife Janet as much as the space program.
Along the way, it covers much of the space program history -- including the tragic Apollo 1 fire that took the lives of three astronauts, including Armstrong’s friend, Ed White -- and its moon landing sequences are very well done.
It will premiere at 7 p.m. Saturday on HBO and repeat at 11:25 p.m.