When We Left Earth: The NASA Mis­sions

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television -

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.

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