When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions
Friday, 8.30pm, SBS One Now there’s a great title for a sci-fi series, except this one is science fact. When We Left Earth first aired in 2008 but in a way its contents are timeless, especially if you don’t count the events of the past four years. Tonight’s first of six episodes, Ordinary Supermen, focuses on the X-15 rocket plane and the Mercury program. Did you know that NASA launched the first X-15 rocket plane in 1959? Wags will note it looks an awful lot like Thunderbird 3, surely a case of art imitating life. Of course in the early days of NASA, the organisation was beaten to the punch by the Soviets. ‘‘ These people can’t even build a refrigerator — how can they launch someone into orbit?’’ was the question of the day. However the requisite kick up the bum was delivered and the space race was on. Incredibly, for the first American launches, celebrity daredevils such as Evel Knievel were seriously considered. The president, however, had other ideas. Mercury astronaut John Glenn tells us Dwight Eisenhower said he would rather have military test pilots in the role. Since test pilots are trained to operate and analyse experimental flying machines, this seems a no-brainer in hindsight. What could be more experimental than flying through space? Terrific viewing for the scientifically inclined.