NASA film by Rory Kennedy re­vis­its her uncle’s chal­lenge

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS -

NEW YORK >> Film­maker Rory Kennedy couldn’t re­sist the ob­vi­ous place to open her new doc­u­men­tary on NASA. That’s a news clip of her uncle, Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy, chal­leng­ing the space agency to land a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

Kennedy said she wanted to give peo­ple who were not alive in the 1960s a sense of the ex­cite­ment and en­ergy that sur­rounded the Apollo mis­sions and space flight in gen­eral.

The movie about NASA’s 60th an­niver­sary, called “Above and Be­yond: NASA’s Jour­ney to To­mor­row,” pre­mieres Satur­day at 9 p.m. Eastern on the Discovery chan­nel, af­ter a short the­atri­cal run.

“I re­ally wanted the film to ap­peal to a large au­di­ence that is ex­cited about NASA and its ac­com­plish­ments and wants to learn more about them,” she said.

Discovery ap­proached Kennedy to make a film about the space agency’s 60th an­niver­sary. While she’s had a spe­cial place in her heart for NASA be­cause of her fam­ily his­tory, Kennedy said it hadn’t been a par­tic­u­lar pas­sion and that she learned a lot while mak­ing the film.

A line mid­way through the film suc­cinctly sums up the chief les­son: “The far­ther we travel, the bet­ter we un­der­stand home.”

While pow­er­ful tele­scopes point be­yond Earth, NASA also looks back. The agency has 19 dif­fer­ent satel­lites in place study­ing dif­fer­ent as­pects of the home plant. From the van­tage point of space, NASA sci­en­tists can trace changes in the Earth’s environment, such as the melt­ing of po­lar ice and the dam­age done to co­ral reefs.

The Mars rover ex­pe­di­tion is study­ing that planet in part to an­swer the ques­tion of whether that planet could at one time have sup­ported life, and what happened in the in­terim.

“The more NASA has looked into space, start­ing with our so­lar sys­tem and galaxy to the uni­verse, the greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion it has had about the pre­cious­ness of our planet and the unique­ness of our planet,” she said. “With all of its ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­plor­ing and break­throughs in the uni­verse, we have yet to find an­other planet like Earth.”

The dis­cov­er­ies about changes to the Earth be­cause of climate change are out­lined in a non-com­bat­ive way in Kennedy’s film. She didn’t want to risk alien­at­ing the au­di­ence by div­ing too deeply into a po­lit­i­cal fight on the is­sue. These pol­i­tics, she be­lieves, plays a role in NASA hav­ing only a frac­tion of the fed­eral fund­ing that it had dur­ing its 1960s hey­day.

“My in­ten­tion was not to make this a climate change film, and I think it’s ul­ti­mately a film about NASA,” she said. “But the same sci­en­tists who are hang­ing off the space sta­tion and do­ing space walks and build­ing (the) Hubble (tele­scope) are the same sci­en­tists who are say­ing this is an ur­gent mat­ter.”

The film touches upon NASA’s fail­ures, like the ex­plo­sions of Chal­lenger and Columbia and send­ing up a space tele­scope that ini­tially de­liv­ered blurry pic­tures, but it’s mostly an ad­mir­ing look at the agency.

“Above and Be­yond” shows pro­to­types of ve­hi­cles that would be used for a po­ten­tial mis­sion to Mars. Kennedy said she’s not sure when or whether NASA would be able to ac­com­plish that. One difficulty is the short length of po­lit­i­cal ad­min­is­tra­tions mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to build the po­lit­i­cal will for such projects — like was done in the 1960s.

DISCOVERY CHAN­NEL VIA AP

This im­age re­leased by Discovery Chan­nel shows film­maker Rory Kennedy dur­ing the film­ing of her new doc­u­men­tary, “Above and Be­yond: NASA’s Jour­ney to

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