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"To the Moon"

PBS Airdate: July 13, 1999
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NARRATOR: During the following program, look for NOVA's web markers which lead you to more information at our web site.

NARRATOR: In 1968, men first left the earth for the moon. Millions of people watched their journey on television. But scarcely a handful knew how it really began.

OPERATOR: North American Aviation?

VOICE: Frank Borman, please.

NARRATOR: Astronaut Frank Borman is commander of a space mission called Apollo 8 assigned to test a new spacecraft in earth orbit - the lunar lander. But the lander is not ready to fly. Then Borman gets a secret phone call from his boss, Deke Slayton.

FRANK BORMAN: I was at Downey running tests on the space craft and I got a call to come back and see Slayton in Houston.

NARRATOR: Slayton can't discuss it on the phone, but CIA satellite photos suggest the Russians may be ready to send a man around the moon before the end of the year. In August, 1968, Borman is offered a dangerous new assignment.

FRANK BORMAN: They wanted to know if I thought we could change our mission and take Apollo 8 and go to the moon. I said, "Great, I'd love to do it, let's go." And that's how it all started.

NARRATOR: One of the two men accompanying Borman would be Jim Lovell.

JIM LOVELL: I was ecstatic. To me, the idea of going to explore a new planet far outweighed the fear of something going wrong.

NARRATOR: Yet there is much that can go wrong. The spacecraft, the rocket, navigating across a quarter million miles. Their safe return depends on a single engine. If it fails, they're stranded at the moon with enough oxygen to live perhaps a week. The third crewman is Bill Anders.

BILL ANDERS: We had accepted these kinds of risks. I thought we had one chance in three of a successful mission, one chance in three of an unsuccessful mission yet surviving, and one chance in three of an unsuccessful mission and not surviving.

NARRATOR: If they were to die, it would change our view of the moon forever - knowing their bodies are up there, silently circling every two hours, year, after year, after year.

CONTROLLER: Two minutes ten seconds and counting. Oxidizer tanks in the second and third stages now have pressurized.

NARRATOR: No human has ever flown more than 800 miles from the earth. Apollo 8 will travel a quarter-million miles to circle the moon.

CONTROLLER: Twelve, eleven, ten, nine, we have admission sequence start. The engines are on. Four, three, two, one, zero, we have commit. We have lift-off.

GENE KRANZ: I was absolutely mesmerized by what was going on. I mean, all of a sudden you find out that, my god, the crew has left the earth's environment. OK, it's now on a way to another planet for the first time. It's like "Holy cow, this is something!"

NARRATOR: Tonight, 30 years later, NOVA returns "To the Moon."

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VOICE OVER: And by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and viewers like you.

NARRATOR: For as long as humans have gazed at the moon, some have dreamed of exploring our nearest neighbor, this mysterious object of wonder. But when future generations look back, they may be surprised to learn why men first went to the moon, because the ancient dream of exploration had almost nothing to do with what was called Project Apollo.

FRANK BORMAN: Any idea that the Apollo program was a great voyage of exploration or scientific endeavor is nuts. People just aren't that excited about exploration. They were sure excited about beating the Russians.

NARRATOR: On October 4, 1957, Russia orbits the first man-made satellite in history - Sputnik. To many Americans, it's a shocking defeat - a Pearl Harbor in space.

J. DOOLITTLE: It is quite possible that an aggressor nation that dominates space will then dominate the world. We just can't let that happen.

Von BRAUN: We consider the control of space around the earth much like, shall we say, the great Maritime powers consider the control of the seas in the 16th through the 18th Century, and they say if we want to control this planet, we have to control the space around it.

NARRATOR: Dr. Werner von Braun is America's leading rocket scientist. A German engineer who created the V-2 rocket for Hitler in World War II, he now works for the US Army. For years, von Braun has dreamed of exploring space. Thanks to the Russians, he'll get the chance. Nine months after Sputnik, President Eisenhower creates the National Aeronautics and Space Administration - NASA. NASA announces Project Mercury - a program to put an American in space.

NASA OFFICIAL: These, ladies and gentlemen, are the nation's mercury astronauts.

NARRATOR: The seven Mercury astronauts become instant heroes - Cold War warriors, ready to battle Communism in space. Future celebrities like Alan Shepard and John Glenn are the public face of America's space program. But even the Mercury astronauts had no idea what was already going on behind the scenes at a little-known NASA laboratory. Here, at the Langley Research Center in Virginia, is where Apollo began. Even today, few Americans realize that in the 1950s, a tiny group of engineers was already planning trips to the moon. They were called the Space Task Group - visionaries dreaming remarkable dreams. One of them, Dr. Maxime Faget, will become a legend, helping to create every American manned spacecraft. In 1958, he's designing the Mercury capsule.

MAX FAGET: We expected to land on the moon sooner or later, because it's so close and because everybody could see the moon, it made a very good target.

NARRATOR: In the 1950s, travel to the moon is about to become possible because of the rocket. Long used as a weapon, the rocket is the only engine that can operate in a vacuum. Rockets are becoming more powerful in order to carry nuclear bombs. Some of them can now reach space. For an astronaut to survive there, he'll need the protection of a "spacecraft" or "capsule." Even a small capsule will need a huge rocket to put it in space. Overcoming gravity takes enormous amounts of fuel. So the rocket is divided into stages. As each one burns its fuel, it drops away to save weight. By the time the capsule finally reaches space, the rocket that put it there is gone. Weight is a problem for the engineers from the beginning, and it will affect every decision they make. The most basic is how they will go to the moon - what the engineers call the "mode." There are two possibilities. The first, "Direct Ascent," uses a single rocket to send a spacecraft to the moon. It's the way people have always imagined going. But sending the spacecraft all that way will take an enormous rocket, larger than the Statue of Liberty - a monster called "NOVA."

AARON COHEN: There were actually designs for the NOVA Rocket, but could you build it? The real issue about the NOVA Rocket is the question is could you build it, and if you did have a problem with it, it could really destroy a good part of the Cape Kennedy at the time, because it was such a massive amount of propellant.

NARRATOR: Werner von Braun favors a different mode: "Earth Orbit Rendezvous" - EOR. EOR uses two smaller rockets. One sends up the spacecraft. The other sends up the fuel. The astronauts rendezvous with the fuel tank, fill up their spacecraft, and head for the moon. Direct Ascent is simple, but needs a huge rocket. Earth Orbit Rendezvous uses smaller rockets, but it's more complicated. Picking the mode will be the most critical decision in the Apollo program, because it determines everything: the spacecraft, the rocket, the training, budget, and schedule. The wrong choice means losing to the Russians, and maybe not reaching the moon at all. The answer was one nobody expected. The engineer who lobbied for it was an outsider - he didn't belong to the Space Task Group and never worked for von Braun. Almost no one welcomed the idea, but he never gave up. The story of his struggle is largely unknown, but the plan he promoted got America to the moon. His name is Dr. John Houbolt. In 1959, he's adamant both modes, Direct and Earth Orbit Rendezvous, will fail because the spacecraft needed to land on the moon is much too large.

JOHN HOUBOLT: It was a vehicle about the size of an Atlas. Down at the Cape, it takes 3000 men, a launch pad, and a launch facility to get an Atlas off the ground from the earth. They were going to land something the size of an Atlas on the moon, backwards, with no help whatsoever. I thought that was preposterous.

NARRATOR: Houbolt suggests not taking the main spacecraft down to the moon at all. Instead, the astronauts will use a separate lander - a small taxi, or bug.

JOHN HOUBOLT: One time we called it the Lunar Excursion Vehicle, sometimes we called it The Bug, sometimes we called it the Lunar Schooner. But idea was that we go there, we go in to orbit around the moon, then make a decision to land so we would land with the small lander but keep the command module in orbit. He was a lonely vigil, observing everything, after we explored, we'd take off again, ascend, make the rendezvous again with the command module, dispense with the lander because it's done it's job, and then we'd return to Earth in a very normal way.

NARRATOR: This is "Lunar Orbit Rendezvous" - LOR. By using a separate lander, and not taking the mother ship down to the moon, LOR saves fuel and weight. Houbolt promises LOR can get America to the moon with one rocket, and it won't have to be the huge NOVA. But the astronauts' safe return depends on rendezvous, something no one's ever done, even around the earth. Houbolt's plan requires that rendezvous work perfectly at the moon. To almost everyone, that seems insane.

MAX FAGET: Well when I first heard about Lunar Orbit Rendezvous, I said, "my gosh, we don't even know how to rendezvous in earth orbit, yet now (laughter) how are we going to be able to assure ourselves that we can get the two vehicles together in orbit and dock together at the moon?" That seemed like a very chancey thing.

JAMES ROSE: I remember expressions like "this is the most ridiculous thing we've ever heard of", "the most unsafe thing", "how could anybody go up there and land and rendezvous 250,000 miles away?"

NARRATOR: John Houbolt goes on a crusade for LOR, making presentation after presentation. Though he did not invent the idea alone, Houbolt has become its main advocate, and he's beginning to annoy some powerful critics like Max Faget.

MAX FAGET: Well, Houbolt was a rather pushy guy, there's no doubt about it.

A. TISCHLER: But there were a lot of people who had their minds made up that we already knew how we were going to do it. And he had considerable discussion and argument, some of it pretty heated.

JOHN HOUBOLT: At a meeting here in headquarters, Max Faget got up on that table and pounded, and he says, "Don't you listen to him. Don't listen. His figures lie, his figures lie!"

A. TISCHLER: We had this little discussion going which personalities got involved (laughter).

JAMES ROSE: To some degree he was crucified that day. Chastized. The system was considered to be risky, unsafe.

NARRATOR: By April, 1961, John Houbolt has been pushing LOR for two years and getting nowhere. But he's about to get some help from an unexpected source. On April 12, 1961, the Russians put the first man in space - Yuri Gagarin. It's the worst defeat for America's space program since Sputnik. And it puts the pressure on a young president who's only been in office twelve weeks.

REPORTER: Mr. President, don't you agree we should try to get to the moon before the Russians if we can?

PRES. KENNEDY: If we can get to the moon before the Russians, we should.

REPORTER: And isn't it your responsibility to apply the vigorous leadership to spark up this program.

PRES. KENNEDY: When you say spark up the program, we first have to make a judgment based on the best information we can get, whether we can be ahead of the Russians to the moon. We're not talking about a program which may be many years away.

REPORTER: The Saturn is still on a 40 hour week, isn't it Mr. President?

PRES. KENNEDY: Saturn is still going to put us well behind.

NARRATOR: Two days after Gagarin's flight, Kennedy has White House Counsel Theodore Sorensen ask NASA what space project might beat the Russians. Their answer is a moon landing.

T. SORENSEN: Can we be the first do that? Can we beat the Russians to that? They said, Yes, that is sufficiently far off. But the US could probably start it now and have a chance of beating the Russians to that. That I knew Kennedy would be interested in hearing.

NARRATOR: Sorensen reports to Kennedy. In Sorensen's mind, it is the decisive moment.

T. SORENSEN: And he said, "I think we ought to try for the moon. There are a lot of tough things that we've got to figure out first, but I think that would be the way to do it, if we can do it."

NARRATOR: But not everyone agrees. Members of a committee, led by Jerome Weisner of MIT, are against going to the moon or even putting a man in space at all. Their secret report warns that the death of an astronaut could seriously embarrass Kennedy. Kennedy will keep his moon decision quiet, until NASA proves an American can go into space and come back alive. That man will be Alan Shepard. Unlike Gagarin, Shepard's flight will be shown on live television. If he dies, the whole world will witness it. An accident on the very first flight would cast a long shadow over the U.S. space program.

NEWSCASTER: Once again, hearts are beating faster and people are tensing, the signs of the final minutes of countdown.

CONTROLLER: Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, ignition, lift off, lift off.

NEWSCASTER: Fire underneath that bird and she's lifting clean. Ice coming off that Redstone. You can hear the roar now. She's going up. Bright flame underneath that rocket. And the rocket is going up straight. She's climbing straight. He's pulling G's now more and more.

NARRATOR: The launch is perfect. For the next fifteen minutes, the world will hold its breath.

CONTROLLER: We appear to be losing voice communication now.

NARRATOR: During reentry, the radio cuts out as expected. To millions of viewers, Shepard has disappeared into the unknown.

MISSION CONTROL: Main chute is green. Main chute is coming (inaudible). Looks good.

NEWSCASTER: This is - you should hear the newsmen here right now, they are absolutely screaming and they're shouting and jumping up and down, it is a tremendously success-

NARRATOR: With the enormous public response to Shepard's flight, Kennedy will now make his moon decision public. Two days before he addresses Congress, NASA gets a draft of the speech.

ROBERT SEAMANS: One thing that really concerned us was it included the date of 1967. And we felt that that fine for planning, and for managerial purposes, but the country should not stick its neck out to that extent. And so right there a call put into Ted Sorenson who said, as you can imagine, "Well what do you recommend?" And Jim Webb said "well, within the decade."

T. SORENSON: To some people in this - in the new decade, that started January 1, 1970, technically it began January 1, 1971. So there was a little fudge there and Kennedy just decided to keep that fudge.

PRES. KENNEDY: I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind or more important for the long range exploration of space.

NARRATOR: America is headed for the moon. Not only has Kennedy made the decision—he's set a deadline. But NASA engineers can't really get started until they decide the approach mode - how to get to the moon. After two years of frustration, John Houbolt risks his career, bypasses channels, and writes directly to NASA Associate Administrator Robert Seamans.

JOHN HOUBOLT: November 15, 1961. "Dear Dr. Seamans, the important question is, do we want to get to the moon or not? I'm simply trying to establish that our LOR scheme deserves the parallel front line position. Respectfully yours, John C. Houbolt."

R. SEAMANS: And that was a blistering letter. And I first thought, well I wish that guy would get off my back. I mean, maybe I should call his boss, director of the laboratory, and tell him that you're not really supposed to cut across six or seven layers of management that way, but I thought, "I think he may be right."

NARRATOR: Seamans tells Brainard Holmes, the head of manned spaceflight, to do a careful evaluation of LOR.

R. SEAMANS: And then it wasn't more than a week or two later, when I was talking to Brainard, and he said, "you know, we are seriously considering it, and it is looking better and better all the time."

JAMES ROSE: I'll tell you, within a month and a half's time they were touting the virtue of lunar rendezvous by the November timeframe of 1961, but I think even though they accepted lunar rendezvous, they never accepted Houbolt. And I think John was never received - ever received the proper credit.

NARRATOR: In July, 1962, NASA announces America will use Lunar Orbit Rendezvous to reach the moon.

JOHN HOUBOLT: I grew up on the farm, working 16 hours a day, milking cows in the morning under 20 below zero and everything, and to me - to know that I've been involved with one of our greatest achievements of mankind, I feel rather special about that.

NARRATOR: NASA has made its decision. But Lunar Orbit Rendezvous is still just theory. If it fails, the astronauts will be stranded at the moon forever. John Houbolt is convinced rendezvous will work. Now it's up to the astronauts to prove he's right. It will take precise flying at extremely high speeds, with little margin for error. This is why military test pilots were selected in the first place. To rendezvous, they'll need a spacecraft they can maneuver, a true flying machine controlled by the pilot. But the primitive Mercury capsule is not it.

CHRIS KRAFT: All we could do in Mercury was put it up and fire the retro rockets and bring it down. We couldn't maneuver the vehicle, we couldn't change its inclination, couldn't change its altitude, couldn't do any kind of operations in space.

NARRATOR: By 1963, Mercury's six flights are over. Apollo is still on the drawing board. Can two spacecraft rendezvous? Can man survive a two week trip to the moon? Can he get out of the spacecraft, with nothing but a suit for protection? All essential questions and no way on earth to answer them. Lost between the pioneering flights of Mercury and the lunar triumph of Apollo is the program that found the answers. It was called "Gemini." Nearly forgotten today, Gemini was the essential step to the moon.

GLYNN LUNNEY: Gemini came along as kind of a step in the middle. As a matter of fact, we were doing Mercury, people began to work on Apollo, and then a number of people realized that there was a whole bunch of things that we could do in earth orbit that we would like to do there before we ever went and tried them at the moon.

NARRATOR: Using a sophisticated two-man capsule, not much bigger than the old Mercury, Gemini will test rendezvous, long-duration flight, and space-walking. All important, but none more critical than rendezvous.

TOM STAFFORD: Everything was based on doing a lunar orbit rendezvous. All the hardware was sized to do that. The performance of the command and service module, the lunar module, the Saturn 5 booster was all based on the assumptions we could successfully do a lunar orbit rendezvous, except nobody had ever done one.

NARRATOR: In December, 1965, the first rendezvous attempt in history begins. Two Gemini flights lift off a few days apart. It will be a dress rehearsal in earth orbit for what they'll need to do at the moon. Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford will play the part of the lunar lander. They'll try to rendezvous with a mother ship, flown by Frank Borman and Jim Lovell. Within a few hours after their launch, Schirra and Stafford can see the other spacecraft.

TOM STAFFORD: Hey, I think I've got it. Is that spacecraft Seven?

NARRATOR: Now it's in Schirra's hands. To close in, he's got to maintain precise control, but every maneuver consumes precious fuel.

WALLY SCHIRRA: The whole thing of rendezvous is exquisite timing, delicate little touches, and it's all little tiny maneuvers. You had to really get in there and use both hands and pitch and roll and move and translate you're flying formation with it.

NARRATOR: Separated by only a few feet, each craft is actually moving over 17,000 miles an hour, like one car tailgating another at breakneck speed. Only superb control keeps them from drifting apart, or crashing together. It's everything meant by the phrase "the right stuff."

CONTROLLER: Ask them what their range is now.

CONTROLLER: Six, what's your range?

SCHIRRA: We're sitting up here playing bridge together. We're in formation with Seven. Everything is go here.

SCHIRRA: We did it.

CONTROLLER: Roger, congratulations, excellent.

SCHIRRA: It's pretty exciting.


NARRATOR: Wally Schirra's piloting and careful use of fuel prove rendezvous can work.

GLYNN LUNNEY: Wally was a perfect choice for that. Went out of his way to do it by the book and exactly within and better than the fuel consumption estimates that had been made.

NARRATOR: Following their rendezvous success, Schirra and Stafford return to earth. Frank Borman and Jim Lovell remain in space to try a 14-day long-duration flight. It's a test to see what will happen to the human body on an actual moon trip.

DAVE SCOTT: By the time we flew on Gemini, they knew that your eyeballs weren't going to change, they knew you could drink, they knew you could sleep. The fears were just could you perform after say, a week in space, up to the level that you're expected to? We really didn't know how the body would sustain that long a period, and we had to know that in order to go to the moon.

NARRATOR: Unfortunately for Frank Borman, his flight is primarily a medical experiment run by doctors.

FRANK BORMAN: One of the things that I learned in the NASA program, if you give the doctors an inch, they'll take a mile. So I launched with an EEG needle stuck in my head, and everything else you can think of.

JIM LOVELL: Just to be confined in there like a sardine in a can, that was a real trial. And of course, you're sitting right next to your companion, and for two weeks being with Frank Borman - two weeks being with Frank Borman any place was a real challenge. But anyway - Frank had a book called "Roughing It" which we were trying to read. We also sang to each other.

FRANK BORMAN: Nat King Cole at that time had a very popular song "Put Your Sweet Lips A Little Closer to the Phone".

JIM LOVELL: "Put your sweet lips a little bit closer to the phone, let's pretend that you and I are all alone."

FRANK BORMAN: That got on our minds and we sang that damn song for two weeks.

JIM LOVELL: That song - so we still sing it occasionally.

NARRATOR: They can joke about it now, but in 1965 Borman and Lovell are medical guinea pigs. They survived 14 days weightless, but even the doctors have no idea what will happen when they return to gravity.

FRANK BORMAN: Yeah, they were concerned on landing that when all of a sudden our hearts were pumping the blood in a one G environment that we might have problems or pass out. Some of them even thought we'd die, but we never even got dizzy.

JIM LOVELL: I actually, for the first couple hours, actually had to almost command my legs to say left, right, left, right. And my mother was watching on TV, and I later saw it on a film. It looks like I had my pants full, because I was walking very, very deliberately.

GLYNN LUNNEY: One thing when they got back on the carrier, they noticed is that all the other people smelled a little funny. They'd been cooped up in this front seat of a Volkswagon for two weeks. By the time they got out of it I think they were very happy to get out of it, although they didn't probably realize how bad it had gotten.

NARRATOR: So far, Gemini has succeeded brilliantly. But the final challenge to master is "Extra-Vehicular Activity" - EVA, or spacewalking. There's no point in going to the moon if you can't get out and walk around. NASA knows it, and so do the Russians. When cosmonaut Alexei Leonov became the first man to float in space, it was yet another defeat for the United States. Three months later, in an effort to match the Russians, American Ed White tried it. He floated for 20 minutes and loved every bit of it.

ASTRONAUT: You're right in front, Ed. You look beautiful.

ED WHITE: I feel like a million dollars.

NARRATOR: So far, it looks easy, but this is a dangerous illusion. Before Gemini is through, EVA will put the lives of three astronauts at risk. Gene Cernan will become the third human to get out in space. But he'll do more than just float around.

GENE CERNAN: I was going to go out, and I was going to have to do legitimate work. I had to basically assemble a whole flying backpack outside the spacecraft in zero gravity through a nighttime cycle where I had little or no light.

NARRATOR: Cernan discovers that even the simplest task is nearly impossible.

GENE CERNAN: Every time I'd push or turn a valve, it would turn my entire body in zero gravity. I had nothing to hold on to. And we take for granted gravity because we can do that kind of work with ease if something is holding our feet to the ground. Nothing was holding me anywhere.

NARRATOR: The effort quickly proves a tremendous strain. Within minutes, he's sweating profusely. It's not at all what Cernan and his commander, Tom Stafford, were expecting.

TOM STAFFORD: Within a few minutes he fogged over. We were so naïve we didn't even think about putting de-fog on our visor like you do when you go snorkeling or scuba diving. And so he was huffing and puffing and I was flying the spacecraft, and he says, "Tom, I've got a hard time controlling myself."

GENE CERNAN: And it was a very - in retrospect, somewhat of a hair raising thing, and there were probably times where there were people down here on Earth wondered whether I'd get back in, because my heart rate was running at 170 beats a minute.

TOM STAFFORD: I said, this is not a good situation at all.

NARRATOR: NASA downplayed the concern, but losing an astronaut during EVA was a very real fear. Hours before the flight began, Deke Slayton, head of the astronaut office, had spoken to Tom Stafford in private about the unthinkable.

TOM STAFFORD: "Tom," he says "NASA management wanted me to let you know if something happens to him out there and if he dies, you've got to bring him back, because we can't afford to have a dead astronaut floating around out there." I looked at him and I said, "We've never talked about this before."

NARRATOR: Cernan is getting his oxygen from an umbilical hose that passes through an open hatch. Stafford must fly the spacecraft. If Cernan dies there's no way Stafford could pull his body back in, get him into his seat, and shut his hatch. The only way Stafford could possibly bring Cernan back is to reenter the atmosphere trailing his body with the hatch still open.

TOM STAFFORD: The Gemini would be in front, but this thing's going to be whipping us all around, I says, "And furthermore, I've got an open hatch and all I have is this thin suit, that was it. Just one layer of nylon and I've got 3200-degree plasma coming a couple of inches right above my shoulders through that open hatch." I said "he's got seven layers of insulation, that's not going to help him too much. He's dead anyway. But I've got one layer here and this plasma's going to come through the hatch. And then suppose we even get through all that, then the pilot chute comes up, is that going to get snared with what's left of Cernan? And then here comes the main parachute out, is that going to get snared with what's left up there? And so here I'm going to plop down in the ocean with a space - with the hatch open, what happens then?" And he says, "Well, what should I tell NASA management?" And I said, "I'll cut him loose if he really is dead. I'll do all I can but if he's dead there's - I mean, there's a good chance you're going to jeopardize the space craft and me too."

GENE CERNAN: Stafford was just going to literally have to cut the cord and I might still be a satellite out there travelling through the sky 20, 30 years later.

NARRATOR: For Stafford, the unthinkable has become all too real. Forget the EVA - all he cares about now is saving Cernan's life.

TOM STAFFORD: So I called the ground and the contact said, "I'm calling it quits, I'm going to get him back in before we go into the next night time." I got him in, and finally he just couldn't hardly move, and then when he opened his visor, he was absolutely pink like he'd been in a sauna about an hour too long. The next day we landed and they flew the suit right back to Houston. They had over a pound or a pound and a half of water out of each boot. But he lost I think ten pounds, ten and a half pounds in two hours and five minutes outside.

NARRATOR: The next two attempts at EVA are scarcely any better.

JIM LOVELL: Everybody forgot Newton's third law of motion, to every action there's an opposite and equal reaction. And when he touched the spacecraft, the spacecraft repelled him.

GENE KRANZ: As engineers, we started saying, look, we've had three missions where the EVAs didn't go well. What was wrong? Then we had a science advisory team step in and say, "Look, your entire principles of EVA are wrong, how you train, how you prepare the crew, the kinds of tools and instruments that you use."

NARRATOR: For the next attempt, the capsule will be equipped with special handholds and footholds, to anchor the spacewalker in place. But the biggest improvement is neutral buoyancy training: practicing underwater, the closest environment on earth to weightlessness. On the final Gemini flight, the new training and tools make all the difference. What has been nearly impossible is now easy for astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

BUZZ ALDRIN: I felt that it was a piece of cake outside, just moving very slowly. There was no challenge. Certain things come naturally. You decide that you're going to move in a certain way and you need leverage, so you just don't allow yourself to get out of position. And it just takes a little bit of patience and understanding.

NARRATOR: In November, 1966, Gemini comes to a triumphant finish. A late addition to NASA's plans, Gemini has proven every technique Apollo will need to reach the moon.

GENE CERNAN: Well, we had to learn how to do all the things to prove that they could be done before we could even think about going to the moon on Apollo. And Gemini in its own historical context was perhaps as important as Apollo, because without Gemini, there would have been no Apollo.

GLYNN LUNNEY: We had finally figured out how to do EVAs without fogging up the visors, we figured out how to do rendezvous, we figured out how to do long duration flights.

TOM STAFFORD: Now suppose we had never done any of this? Say, whoopee, we're going to the moon. Without Gemini, it would've been a disaster.

NARRATOR: But the almost unbelievable success of Gemini is not a harbinger of things to come. Locked away in an anonymous building at the Langley Research Center are the physical remains of Apollo's darkest hour. The artifacts stored in this building have not been shown to the public in a decade. Once, they were evidence. Today they are painful reminders of shattered dreams. In 1967, the high hopes of America's moon program were all riding on this spacecraft. Its maiden voyage, the first flight of Apollo, was supposed to bring the moon within reach. But it was not to be. Four weeks before launch, this spacecraft was destroyed by fire. The tragedy not only claimed the lives of three astronauts. It also stole forever the innocence of everyone who worked on Apollo. It is January, 1967, ten weeks since Gemini ended. The new Apollo spacecraft is nearly ready for its first test flight. The crew is Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. Chaffee is a rookie; this will be his first flight. Ed White flew once in Gemini - he was the first American to walk in space. Gus Grissom, one of the Mercury 7, is the most experienced. This will be his third flight, and he intends to go even farther.

INTERVIEWER: Gus, what do you think your chances are for an Apollo flight?

GUS GRISSOM: I think they're pretty good, I expect to be around for most of the Apollo program.

INTERVIEWER: You think you will one day make one of the trips to the moon, then?

GUS GRISSOM: I'm planning on it.

NARRATOR: Shortly before launch, there are two critical tests. One is for leaks. They seal the capsule, pump up the pressure inside, and see if it holds. The second test is a practice countdown - a dress rehearsal for launch. The crew is in the capsule, the hatch sealed, and the spacecraft filled with pure oxygen. To save time, NASA does both these tests at once. They check for leaks at high pressure while the crew is inside, in pure oxygen. The combination is lethal.

CHRIS KRAFT: We had 15 PSI of pure oxygen in that spacecraft. And at 15 PSI of oxygen, aluminum burns.

NARRATOR: After years of doing this same test on every Mercury and Gemini capsule, NASA has become complacent about pure oxygen at high pressure. On January 27th, 1967, their luck runs out. There are communication problems, and Grissom is frustrated.

CONTROLLER: Do you copy?

CONTROLLER: No, I didn't read you, Chuck at all. I can't read you, Chuck. You want to try the phone?

GUS GRISSOM: How are we going to get to the moon if we can't talk between three buildings? I can't hear a thing you're saying. Jesus Christ.

CONTROLLER: Can you guys talk together up there in the Command Module?

GUS GRISSOM: I said how are we going to get to the moon if we can't talk between two or three buildings?

NARRATOR: Ironically, the end of the test is to be an emergency escape drill. But it never gets that far. At 6:31 p.m., somewhere in miles of wire, a spark jumps.

ROCCO PETRONE: I was looking at a TV on my launch director's console. I saw a flash, and the spacecraft really burst into flames.

CHRIS KRAFT: We heard these screams and then a calm coming from the spacecraft and we heard the people on the pad yelling about a fire.

NARRATOR: In the high-pressure oxygen, the fire quickly becomes an inferno. Seated in the middle, Ed White is desperately trying to release the hatch, but the hatch opens inward.

PETE CONRAD: When the spacecraft was pressurized, there was no way Ed White could pull that hatch inward. I mean, there was tons of force holding that hatch closed.

NARRATOR: It takes pad technicians five minutes to get the hatch open.

ROCCO PETRONE: And when they did, our crew had expired.

GLYNN LUNNEY: It was like a stomach punch for everyone in the program, and everybody no matter what role they had or what part they had in it, I think had a sense of guilt about it.

GENE KRANZ: Somewhere, somewhere along the line, one of us must have missed something, and therefore we let our crew down.

MRS. CHAFFEE: Roger was so energetic, so enthusiastic about the whole program. We're sure that as long as he had to leave this world, he's happy in a spaceship anyway.

NEWSMAN: No anger at what's down at Cape Kennedy? What will continue, what will follow?

MR. CHAFFEE: No, none whatsoever. The price of progress comes high at times.

NARRATOR: In the aftermath, NASA conducts a painstaking investigation and finds the Apollo spacecraft is full of design flaws and sloppy workmanship. Worst of all, there's poor quality wiring, the most likely cause of the fire. Over 100 design changes are made: a hatch that opens outward in seven seconds, better shielding on wire, better fireproofing, and for all ground tests, no more pure oxygen. This spacecraft never left the ground. Yet it may have contributed more than any other flight to the goal of reaching the moon.

CHRIS KRAFT: I hesitate to say this but I have to say it. I don't think we would've gotten to the moon in the '60's if we had not had the fire. It's a terrible thing to say but I think it is true.

ROCCO PETRONE: If that had happened while we were on the way to the moon, we'd have lost a crew, never heard from them again, and there would've been just a mystery hanging over the whole program, which would've caused an untold delay, and maybe even a cancellation.

NARRATOR: But no matter how improved the new spacecraft may now be, it still cannot reach the moon without a huge and powerful rocket: the Saturn 5. Mercury and Gemini used reconfigured military rockets intended to carry warheads. The Saturn 5 was created solely to explore space. It stood 363 feet tall. It weighed 6 million pounds, but over 90% of that weight was fuel - a million gallons. All that fuel didn't last long. The five engines of its first stage burned 15 metric tons of it every second. This was the only rocket that could send Apollo to the moon. And there was a time when no one knew if it would even work. This incredible machine is the creation of Werner von Braun and his team at the Marshall Spaceflight Center. Within NASA, the Marshall group is notorious for being extremely cautious engineers.

A. TISCHLER: Some of the people in the headquarters referred to Marshall as the Chicago Bridge and Iron Works, and all of their vehicles were very conservatively designed with safety factors that I think were probably excessive by today's standards at least. However, there's one thing that has to be acknowledged. They worked.

NARRATOR: But von Braun's conservative engineering has a down side. His team works slowly, testing their rockets one stage at a time. At this rate, it will be years before the Saturn 5 is ready. Dr. George Mueller, Director of Manned Spaceflight, sees a way to cut the schedule: test the whole rocket at once, an "all-up" test. Von Braun and his team are aghast.

R. SEAMANS: To sell this to the German team was really - they couldn't believe it. They were for the careful step by step approach.

GEO. MUELLER: And their reaction was "You must be out of your mind. You wouldn't do that would you?" And that literally was what they said.

NARRATOR: Von Braun has good reason to be nervous. The Saturn has the power of a small nuclear bomb. Thousands of parts must work perfectly, or it may explode without warning. Just to get it off the ground, huge mechanisms must function with split-second timing. A giant steel gantry with enormous "service arms." Five remain connected, until the rocket starts to move. Under the launch stand, a huge "flame deflector" channels exhaust away to the sides. Without it, the hot gases would bounce straight up, and the rocket would destroy itself. Four "hold-down arms" bolt the rocket down until it has correct thrust. When the arms release, they must all let go within 50 milliseconds or the Saturn will tip over. Now the five remaining swing arms, 20 to 30 tons each, must retract in seconds.

ROCCO PETRONE: The bird has to climb some two inches before the arm starts to swing. And that's an emotional time, I must tell you.

NARRATOR: By 1967, rocket and launch complex are ready. On November 9, at 7:00 am, Rocco Petrone's launch team lights the candle.

ROCCO PETRONE: You count up and at 6 seconds roughly you give the first signal to burn.

CONTROLLER: Five, four - we have ignition-

NARRATOR: When the engines all reach correct thrust, the rocket sends a command: "LET ME GO!" The hold-down arms release. The swing arms retract. The Saturn 5 is on its own.

GEO. MUELLER: You could see the triumph in some of our faces when it actually went off properly.

R.SEAMANS: And I was with Werner and some of his team there, and they said, "We just can't believe it, it all worked!"

ROCCO PETRONE: To me it was the opening of the space age. Once we had that bird launched, then it was just a matter of time until we got to the moon.

NARRATOR: The Saturn 5 has worked perfectly on its first unmanned test. In little more than a year, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders will become the first men to ride a Saturn 5. It will take them all the way to the moon. Thirty years later, NOVA joins Borman, Lovell, and Anders at a reunion in Chicago - a chance to look back on the perilous journey that was Apollo 8, and to recall the mysterious way it began.

OPERATOR: North American Aviation?

VOICE: Frank Borman, please.

FRANK BORMAN: This was all super secret. They wouldn't even discuss it or allow us to discuss it over the telephones. And that's why, the reason I had to fly back to Houston and get told in person and then even though we had changed our mission -

BILL ANDERS: Didn't you know before you actually got in the airplane that there was going to be a change?

FRANK BORMAN: I did not know. I did not have any idea until I walked into Slayton's office. Honest to god.

JIM LOVELL: Well let me ask you, what did he - did he give you an option or did he say the mission has been changed?

FRANK BORMAN: No, he said that the Russians - that the CIA had heard that the Russians were going to launch before the end of the year, and Lowe was coming up with this plan to send Apollo 8 to the moon, and what did I think about it? And I said "I thought that was a hell of a good idea. It didn't take me 30 seconds, I committed you guys about it. (laughter).

LOVELL: You see that, Bill, he said, "Hey, Bill and Jim, would really love to do that." (laughter)

NARRATOR: Three days after leaving earth, Apollo 8 is approaching its target. But the moon is invisible, hidden in shadow, lost in total darkness.

BILL ANDERS: It was very black, all there was we could see over our shoulder was a black hole but no stars. We assumed that was the moon. In fact, it was the only time in the flight that my hair kind of crawled on the back of my neck - going into this big black hole.

NARRATOR: Mission planners have calculated the precise instant the crew should be able see the moon emerge into sunlight if everything has worked perfectly.

FRANK BORMAN: One of the things that would tell us if we were on track or not was a certain point in the flight plan when we'd look down and see the sunrise impacting the lunar surface. And I remember the awe that I had for the people that had done all this calculation. At the exact second we were supposed to see it, there it was.

BILL ANDERS: Something caught my eye out of my window. And these were the lunar mountains coming up the window.

NARRATOR: It is humankind's first look ever at the far side of the moon.

BILL ANDERS: It was a lot rougher than the front of the moon, the side that's always exposed to the earth.

FRANK BORMAN: We were like three school kids looking into a candy store window. Our noses were pressed against the glass. We forgot the flight plan.

NARRATOR: Then, something happens that no one has predicted. And it turns out to be an even more amazing sight.

BILL ANDERS: When I looked up and saw the Earth coming up on this very stark, beat up moon horizon, an Earth that was the only color that we could see, a very fragile looking Earth, a very delicate looking Earth, I was immediately almost overcome with the thought, here we came all this way to the moon, and yet the most significant thing we're seeing is our own home planet, the Earth.

NARRATOR: Though their mission is to photograph the moon, all three men focus on the earth. Bill Anders takes a picture that gives humanity its first look at our home as it really is - "Earthrise."

BILL ANDERS: All of the views of the Earth from the moon have left the human race and its political leaders and its environmental leaders and its citizenry realizing we are all jammed together on one really kind of dinky little planet, and we better treat it and ourselves better, or we're not going to be here very long.

NARRATOR: As fate would have it, it is Christmas Eve. NASA has planned a live television broadcast from around the moon.

FRANK BORMAN: We were told that we would have the largest audience that had ever listened to human voice when we made our TV broadcast from the moon on Christmas eve. And the only instructions that we got from NASA - do something appropriate.

NARRATOR: The largest audience in history, the first words from another world. But what should they say?

FRANK BORMAN: I didn't want to take the time to worry about that when we had so much else. And Sy Borgan who was a friend of ours with the US Information Agency suggested how about reading from Genesis and so that's how it happened.

Apollo 8 Astros: We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you. In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, "Let there be light." And there was light. And God saw the light. And it was good. And God divided the light from the darkness.

GENE KRANZ: There's a lot of times in my life when I've been brought to tears by just the power, the immensity, the beauty of what we were doing, and this was one of those days.

Apollo 8 Astros: And God saw that it was good. And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth.

JIM LOVELL: As soon as the thing was cut off, we talked to the ground. I said, "Did you get all that?" They said "yeah." "Did it come in fine?" "Yes." "OK, now give us the instructions for getting home."

NARRATOR: Getting home depends on a single engine - there's no backup. If it fails, they're stuck at the moon without hope of rescue.

BILL ANDERS: That got my attention a lot. We knew we would be there forever if indeed that engine didn't work again. So that was a sobering thought.

CONTROLLER: All systems are go. Over.

FRANK BORMAN: Roger. Thank you, Houston. Apollo 8.

FRANK BORMAN: I think the premier of all the tense moments was the burn to get us back out of lunar orbit. We only had a single engine to do that, and had it failed, we'd still be circling the moon. So I can assure you there were six eyeballs focused on those instruments.

JIM LOVELL: Well we were talking about what we call the TEI burn, trans earth injection, and of course, we spent 20 hours going around the moon and were all kind of tired, and so we're programming the computer to turn on the engine and get the proper attitude, and as we got around the back side, because this burns starts on the back side, so no one can hear us from the earth, and on the computer it comes up a little sign that says - a couple of numbers that essentially says "are you really sure that you want to make this maneuver?, this is your last chance to make up a decision." So I said, Frank, "Do we really want - " Frank says, "Push the button, push the button."

FRANK BORMAN I'll never forget that.

NARRATOR: The engine works. They're on a path back toward the Earth.

But how accurate is their course? In three days, Apollo 8 will hit the earth's atmosphere at 25,000 miles an hour. They must come in at exactly the right angle. Too shallow, and Apollo 8 will skip off like a stone on water. Too steep, and they will be incinerated.

BILL ANDERS: We had to come 240,000 miles to hit something that was a reentry target about the size of a letter slot, seen from about 4 miles away. We had to slide the letter into that slot. And the initial throw was good enough that that letter went right through the middle of it.

FRANK BORMAN: On the reentry Bill hadn't flown before, so Lovell and I were kidding him all the time about how we exciting the reentry was going to be and this and that and the other thing, and don't worry, we were going to be alright, and then about half way through the reentry, the Apollo was so much more spectacular than Gemini, Lovell and I were both scared. (laughter) We shut up. You remember that?

NARRATOR: With its "Earthrise" photograph, and reading of Genesis, Apollo 8 has struck a universal chord, moving the human spirit all across the world.

BILL ANDERS: I think the high point of my space career was Apollo 8. I say that because we were the first three people to leave the earth, to go to the moon, to see the moon - the far side, but also the first people to see the earth as it really is.

NARRATOR: And, it has accomplished its original mission as well - it got to the moon before the Russians.

FRANK BORMAN: Realizing that we had done our job well, that we beat the Russians to the moon, and there was no doubt in my mind now that the rest of the program was going to work, I had a feeling almost of euphoria, I was so pleased, I was so thankful. Because let's face it, God must have been looking after us or we wouldn't have made it, so it was a very, very, very religious experience for me.

JIM LOVELL: Bill had an interesting comment when we landed, because someone, while we were waiting to be picked up, someone had called from the ship or the helicopter and said, "Is the moon made out of green cheese?" And Bill says, "No, it's American cheese."

FRANK BORMAN: Jeez, I remember that like yesterday.


NARRATOR: Apollo 8 has traveled nearly half a million miles, and paved the way for the flights to follow. All that remains to fulfill Kennedy's promise is the landing.

NARRATOR: Early in 1969, the Russian threat resurfaces. CIA satellite photos reveal two Soviet rockets larger than any detected before.

ROBERT SEAMANS: The Soviet Union, by whatever circumstances, had a very, very clever, aggressive space program, and they made maximum use of everything they had. When they started that very large booster, for example, our satellite photography showed that this was definitely a lunar landing vehicle.

NARRATOR: Top secret film footage - only recently seen in the West - now confirms the scale of the Russian effort. The Soviets had constructed a massive new launch complex at the Baikanor Cosmodrome, 1500 miles southeast of Moscow. Inside the main building, a lunar lander was under development. The Soviets, too, were planning a Lunar-Orbit-Rendezvous approach to the moon. And their rocket - known as the N-1 - boasted 30 engines in the first stage alone, and stood 35 stories high.

MAX FAGET: It had a huge rocket, the size of the Saturn, with many more engines on it than the Saturn, which they were planning to go to the moon with.

NARRATOR: The Soviets began testing the N-1, under conditions of utmost secrecy. No one outside a tiny Soviet elite ever knew of these launches. But the CIA surveillance photos are proof enough that the race to the moon is not yet over. There is little to time to savor the success of Apollo 8. Kennedy's deadline is fast approaching - and NASA's lunar lander is not yet ready to fly.

NEWSREEL: This strange device is one that Uncle Sam hopes will make history. The lunar craft will reach the moon aboard the Apollo spacecraft, and then two of the crew of three will board the "bug" to land on the moon.

NARRATOR: The Lunar Excursion Module - the LEM - is designed to orbit the moon as part of a stack of spacecraft, attached to the Command and Service Modules, the CSM. Following John Houbolt's plan, the LEM will separate off and carry two astronauts down to the surface of the moon. The ascent stage of the LEM will bring them back to dock with the CSM and return to Earth. At Grumman Corporation, where the LEM is still under construction, project manager Tom Kelly is feeling the heat from NASA.

TOM KELLY: Terrible heat, terrible heat. We weren't ready, we were having a lot of trouble with the early LEMs, getting them to pass all their tests, and trying to meet our schedules. And we were about three to four months down, despite our best efforts to try to make it up.

NARRATOR: The LEM will never operate in Earth's atmosphere, so aerodynamics are not a problem. The problem is weight.

TOM KELLY: For every pound of weight that was brought down to the lunar service and then back up into lunar orbit, you had to add three pounds of rocket propellant, so it was a four to one growth factor on weight. We went back very painstakingly through everything and cut out weight. For example, the skin, the aluminum alloy skin of the crew compartment, was about 12 thousandths of an inch thick, that's equivalent to about three layers of Reynolds Wrap that you would use in the kitchen.

NARRATOR: Inside the crew compartment, too, everything is pared down to the bare essentials.

TOM KELLY: There were no seats. In order to save weight, we had eliminated seats. This enabled us to put the pilot's eye very close to the window, so we could minimize the size of the window and still have a very wide field of view outside the window.

NARRATOR: While engineers trim pounds from the LEM, astronauts train for a lunar landing with this contraption - known as the "flying bedstead." Jet engines firing downward cancel out most of the vehicle's weight to approximate lunar gravity, but the machine is awkward - and dangerous. In May 1968, astronaut Neil Armstrong - a former fighter pilot - climbs into the bedstead. Fellow astronaut Bill Anders had just completed his turn flying the ungainly machine.

BILL ANDERS: It had two rocket fuel tanks, two round tanks, one on each side of the vehicle, with a cross feed between them. So while Neil was up there getting the near perfect start, fuel was draining from one tank to the other. Just about prior to touchdown, he ran out of the fuel that controlled the attitude of this vehicle. So now it was like a kid's balloon at a party, where they blow it up and let it go.

NARRATOR: Armstrong managed to eject just in time. But parachutes are not an option on the airless moon. The lander must work perfectly. And the landing site must hold no surprises. The moon's surface appeared fairly smooth from the vantage point of Apollo 8 - plenty of wide, flat plains where the LEM could set down safely. But close-up photos beamed back from unmanned probes tell a different story: Deep craters. Towering mountains. Boulders bigger than houses litter the landscape. One scientist warns that the LEM could sink beneath the surface into a thick layer of lunar dust. The landing site must be chosen with great precision - and from a quarter-million miles away. Charged with this task are two geologists, then fresh out of graduate school, Farouk El-Baz and Jim Head.

JIM HEAD: One of the big problems was, if you landed on, even on a flat surface on the edge of a crater, some of these craters had slopes of 10 to 15 degrees on the inside. And of course as the lunar module pitched over and landed, they would just keep going over. And that was not something you wanted to have happen, because obviously, you couldn't get off the moon if that were the case. So there were lots of different problems.

JIM HEAD: That would have been an interesting one right next to here, but I'm not sure it would have been a very safe landing.

FAROUK EL-BAZ: Yes (laughter).

NARRATOR: Not the least of their problems is dealing with the competing expectations of the scientific community and NASA engineers.

JIM HEAD: The engineers want to do the simplest possible thing to get the person there and return them safely. And the scientists want to say, wait, "We're going to be on the moon. Let's run over here, and that's going to be interesting over there, and how do we get to this, and why land in this dull boring place? Look at the mountains." And you can imagine saying to an engineer, you don't want to land on a flat surface, we want to land on the side of a mountain. Like, whoa, get real.

NARRATOR: The engineers prevail. The first landing attempt will aim for the edge of a broad, flat area known as Mare Tranquillitatis - the Sea of Tranquility. July 3, 1969. As Apollo 11 inches toward pad 39A, the space race ends, suddenly, in a ball of fire. The CIA learns that a giant Russian N-1 moon rocket has blown up during a test launch at Baikanor. It will take the Soviets months to recover - if they ever can. NASA officials debate whether to pause and catch their breath. But all systems are go. The LEM has been trimmed down to flying weight. Just two days before launch, NASA gives the final go-ahead for a landing attempt. The astronauts - Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins - know that many peg their chances of actually reaching the moon's surface at 50/50. If they fail, NASA has two more rockets and two more crews ready to go before decade's end. On July 16th, over a million people flock to Cocoa Beach, Florida - across the bay from the launch site. The crowd is filled with politicians, television stars, ordinary people, all hoping to witness history being made.

CONTROLLER: T minus 50 seconds, guidance is internal. 12, 11, 10, 9, ignition sequence starts. Five, four, three, two, one, zero. Lift off, we have a lift off. Thirty-two minutes across the hour. Lift off on Apollo 11.

CONTROLLER: Apollo 11, this is Houston. You are confirmed to go for orbit.

NARRATOR: The three Gemini space veterans aboard the spacecraft have spent years preparing for this journey. Collins, 37, a West Point graduate and career test pilot, will fly the command module around the moon. Aldrin, 38, also from West Point with a Doctorate from MIT, will join the 37-year-old Armstrong - NASA's only civilian astronaut - in the first attempt to land on the moon.

CONTROLLER: Looks like it's going to be impossible to get away from the fact that you guys are dominating all the news back here on Earth, even Pravda in Russia is headlining the mission and calls Neil "the czar of the ship."

NARRATOR: Four days and a quarter million miles from Earth, the crew enters lunar orbit.

CONTROLLER: You are go for LOI , over.

BUZZ ALDRIN: Roger, go for LOI.

CONTROLLER: All your systems are looking good.

BUZZ ALDRIN: Everything looks OK up here.

CONTROLLER: Going around the corner, we'll see you on the other side. Over.

GENE KRANZ: Going through my mind was a very simple equation in here. Today, we're either going to land, we're going to abort, or we're going to crash.

CONTROLLER: OK, all flight controllers, going to go for landing. Retro.


NARRATOR: 70 miles above the moon, Armstrong and Aldrin undock the LEM and begin their descent.

BUZZ ALDRIN: Capcom, we're go for landing.

NARRATOR: In Houston, 26-year-old Steve Bales - in charge of guidance control - anxiously awaits data to track their speed and location.

STEPHEN BALES: When we finally get data, I realized that we're going toward the moon 13 miles an hour faster than we should be, and the computer doesn't know it, and our ground radars tell us. And it doesn't sound like much, and yet it's almost enough that we have to abort the mission.

GENE KRANZ: My trench comes up and says, "Hey, we're not in the position that we expect to be. We've got some velocity errors, and the one that really got your attention we're halfway to our abort limits." Say, holy cow, things are mounting in here.

NEIL ARMSTRONG: - 47 degrees, Roger.

STEPHEN BALES: We have a rule that says, if it gets up to 20 miles an hour, we're going to stop this mission, because you could actually literally crash into the moon and not know it, while you're on automatic pilot.

NARRATOR: Their velocity stays within acceptable limits, but the trouble is far from over. In the lunar module, Neil Armstrong realizes they have overshot their intended landing site.

BUZZ ALDRIN: Maybe three or four minutes into the descent, Neil made an observation, it looks like we may be a little bit long. And I thought, jeez, you know, how can he possibly suspect that? But it turned out that we were a little bit long.

NARRATOR: Only when the LEM pitches over to prepare for landing, can Armstrong get a good look at the surface below out the pilot's window. They're heading down into a field of boulders. He hits the throttle, hard.

STEPHEN BALES: I see the vehicle going across the surface of the moon like I have never seen it do in simulations. I said, "What has gone wrong? What is, what's going on?" It's going five times as fast horizontally. It's never supposed to do that, it's just supposed to gently hover down.

NEIL ARMSTRONG: 100 feet, three and a half down, nine forward.

FAROUK EL-BAZ: We knew that they were not landing where they were supposed to land. We had worked on the exact landing point for so long, and we wanted this landing specifically to be very successful and safe. And here they are, not landing where they're supposed to be, and we have no idea where they will finally land, and it was really terrifying to find out that perhaps here we were going to see something that might end the program.

NARRATOR: With a minute to go, they confront the unthinkable - an abort or even a crash. Armstrong's search for a good landing spot is using up precious fuel.

NEIL ARMSTRONG: 60 seconds. Lights on, forward.

BUZZ ALDRIN: And then when 60 seconds and the light came on and we were still not real close to the ground, we were maybe 100, 120 feet, then I guess I was getting a little concerned, but what could I do? Could I say, "Hey Neil, hurry up, get it on the ground?" That would just excite him a little bit more, so I couldn't say that.

NARRATOR: Armstrong has flown four miles past the prime landing target. He has half a minute's worth of fuel left.

CONTROLLER: 30 seconds.

STEPHEN BALES: You hear 60 seconds, and you hear 30 seconds. And we ever get to zero, we're going to call an abort on fuel, the crew knows it and we know it.

GENE KRANZ: And about the time we got 30 second call, the crew said hey, we're kicking up some dust.

NEIL ARMSTRONG: We're kicking up some dust. OK, 75 feet.

GENE KRANZ: And we knew then that we were close, and their, I knew that no matter what I would say or do from now on, this crew was going to go in for the landing.

BUZZ ALDRIN: Four forward, drifting to the right a little.

GENE KRANZ: So, we just shut up here on the ground, and all we were doing was letting them know what their fuel status was.

STEPHEN BALES: And the fuel is going lower and lower. And then finally you hear, contact light.

BUZZ ALDRIN: Contact light.

NEIL ARMSTRONG: OK, engines stop.

CONTROLLER We copy you down, Eagle.

STEPHEN BALES: Then he says something I will never forget.

BUZZ ALDRIN: Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed.

STEPHEN BALES: I didn't know what tranquility base was, they had never used that term when we were doing simulations, they always called themselves Eagle. So I thought, what is this tranquility base? And then I think, what a wonderful name. I mean, all of that in a matter of two seconds.

CONTROLLER: Rocket Tranquility, we copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot.

NARRATOR: Gene Kranz has no time to catch his breath. He must quickly decide: is the spacecraft safe where it stands, or should the crew launch from the lunar surface immediately to rejoin the command module?

GENE KRANZ: We had to look over the spacecraft very quickly, make sure the spacecraft was safe, it wasn't toppling over, we hadn't damaged any of the fuel systems by blowing rocks maybe up into the - lunar debris, up into the soft underside of the spacecraft. So I had to do this very quickly.

BUZZ ALDRIN: And after about two minutes, then it's too late, really, because if you were to lift off after two minutes after the normal landing, Mike Collins is going around and around, and he's too far ahead for you to catch up to him in a reasonable time.

GENE KRANZ: And I just couldn't get the words out to start the stay/no stay process, and in frustration after a couple of seconds, I wrapped my arm on, my right arm on the console, and I had a pencil in my hand. I broke the pencil in two, and then got over that. It was just pure frustration, got through it, and got on with the stay/no stay decisions, until we could finally get off shift and say, "My God, today we landed on the moon.

JOHN HOUBOLT: And all of a sudden, the emotions of everybody came through, they all got up and clapped. Von Brown was sitting in front of me, he turned to me and with an OK sign, he said, thank you, John. That's the biggest compliment I've had in my life.

NEIL ARMSTRONG: That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

NARRATOR: The most massive and concentrated effort of science and engineering since the building of the atomic bomb has paid off. The cost has been high: $20 billion, and the lives of 10 astronauts - Soviet and American. But on July 20, 1969 - only eight years after President Kennedy committed the nation to the challenge - Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk the surface of the moon. But what is this place they've landed on? This moon that is bigger and closer to its host planet than any other moon in our solar system? What can we learn by actually being there, about its age, its origins, its crater-torn surface? The focus of Apollo is about to change. Armstrong and Aldrin bring back precious samples from the moon that are immediately sealed away in air-tight vaults. The first pieces of another world.

MICHAEL DUKE: I was a scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey at the time, one of those chosen to study the samples, and it's, gosh, it's 30 years ago now, but I can remember the excitement of coming here and getting our bits of material.

JIM HEAD: When the rocks first came back, it was really amazing because the rocks Neil Armstrong picked up turned out to be basalts, and the ages of those weren't a few thousand or hundreds of thousands of years, but were 3.7 billion years old. Older than virtually all rocks we've found on the earth at that time.

NARRATOR: Basalts like this are made from cooling lava - the holes from bubbles of escaping gas. On Earth basalts are relatively young, as the planet's surface is constantly reshaped, erasing eons of geological history. But the age of the lunar basalts suggests that any volcanic activity on the moon ceased billions of years ago, after oceans of lava hardened, forming dark areas called maria or "seas." These rocks - before the astronauts picked them up - had lain virtually unchanged for nearly 4 billion years. Geologists are anxious for more and different samples. Even before Apollo 11, they had lobbied NASA to send a bona fide scientist to the moon. Back in 1965, a group of scientists had been selected to train as astronauts - the first who had not come up through the ranks as test pilots.

GENE CERNAN: When the scientist-astronauts were selected, they were all nice guys, but who needed them? You know, I mean, they can't fly, none of them knew how to fly. We had to send them to flight school.

WALTER CUNNINGHAM: We felt like basically they were taking up space, they didn't have the qualifications that we felt were essential, and that was to be a fighter pilot. A living, breathing, gung-ho fighter jock.

NARRATOR: There were two MDs, two engineers, one physicist and a Ph.D. geologist the astronauts nicknamed "Dr. Rock."

JACK SCHMITT: The whole idea of volunteering was with the possibility of actually taking my science and my interests to the moon.

WALTER CUNNINGHAM: Jack took a long time to get through flight training. I remember at the time saying that if God had meant man to fly, he wouldn't have made him Jack Schmitt. But these guys, they were good. I mean, they were sharp people, but they were cut from a different mold. We also felt like they were - would kind of undermine the office on our official positions, which was kind of like anti-doctor, anti-scientist.

GENE CERNAN: Hell, we were astronauts. We could be anything we wanted to be. We were a little arrogant, there's no question about it. And there was - and for every scientist that flew, one of us would not.

NARRATOR: Schmitt would never be completely accepted in the test-pilot fraternity and he didn't expect to get to the moon himself. But he used whatever leverage he had to push NASA to liven up its approach to geology training.

JACK SCHMITT: My impression was that the pilot-astronauts were bored. It was not very interesting to them.

FAROUK EL-BAZ: Most of the astronauts actually hated geology. They didn't want to touch a geologist with a ten-foot pole. Because their first courses in geology were taught the way I was taught geology, in a classroom with the thin sections and the microscope, and learning the (laughter) chemical formula of a mineral which they would never see again or never use. And they would tell each other, I mean, "we're not going to get a goddamn microscope and look at this stuff! What the hell are we doing this for?"

NARRATOR: To spark the astronauts' enthusiasm, Schmitt recruited his own source of inspiration from his days at Cal Tech, Dr. Lee Silver.

LEON SILVER: What I was trying to do initially was convince them that they could make important contributions to the science.

NARRATOR: Silver led field trips for the crews of future missions, including Jim Lovell, soon to fly on Apollo 13 with Fred Haise. And Dave Scott, scheduled to fly the following year on Apollo 15. In Iceland they studied basalts - volcanic rock like Armstrong and Aldrin found. At Meteor Crater, Arizona they found samples of a kind of compressed, fragmented rock called breccia. Finding breccia on the lunar surface could prove that the moon's vast craters were formed not by volcanoes - as many once thought - but by the fiery bombardment of meteor impact. The astronauts must learn to recognize it.

JIM HEAD: You have to think about these people as not a typical set of undergraduates who are going out on a geology field trip. I mean, here are these people, incredibly highly motivated, but also very, you know, they're very competitive. And before not too long, these people became highly motivated students, because they could see that, hey, you get out on the moon, we're not just going to pick up a couple of rocks. You're going to be on the moon for seven hours, and "gosh gee whiz, that really looks neat" goes about 30 seconds. And you've got to learn some geo lingo, or you're going to look stupid.

FRED HAISE: We did geology from when we woke up at dawn and could get breakfast, to, we'd go through three, two, three, four exercises a day until it got dark, and then talk geology around the campfire until ten at night.

NARRATOR: Fred Haise and Jim Lovell had become so enthused about geology that they chose as their Apollo 13 motto "Ex Luna, Scientia" - "From the Moon - Knowledge," and are heading for a hilly landing site - quite different from the flat terrain where Apollo 11, and then Apollo12, had landed.

JIM LOVELL: We knew that the material might be different than it is in flat areas. We knew there was a ejecta lying on the surface, thrown up by volcanism or impacts that we - that they wanted us to pick up, because that could tell us a lot about the interior of moon.

NARRATOR: Two days after lift-off, Lunar Module Aquarius coupled to Command Module Odyssey, is nearing the moon. Everything is going smoothly. It's become almost routine.

GLYNN LUNNEY: Trips out to the moon and back are generally very quiet, kind of boring, as a matter of fact. The crew's kind of going over their checklist, etc. They had a TV day that they were - the crew took everybody on a tour of the capsule and so on. And that was winding down, and they were securing from that, and getting ready for sleep time.

JIM LOVELL: - We're just about ready to close out our suspension of Aquarius and get back to our pleasant space-faring odyssey. Good night.

SY LIEBERGOT: Gene Kranz went around the room, says, before we put the crew to bed, is there anything you want to do before they shut down for the night? And I said, OK, flight, what I need them to do is to stop charging one of the batteries and give me a cryo stir all four tanks. Four switches, all four tanks. No big deal.

NARRATOR: Command Module pilot, Jack Swigert, throws the switches to activate fans that stir up the tanks of liquid Hydrogen and Oxygen. Then, suddenly, the spacecraft lurches - as if struck by a meteor.

JIM LOVELL: Houston, we have had a problem. We've had a Min Bus B interval.

FRED HAISE: And there was a very obvious abnormal combination of shock and initial felt motion as well as sound reverberating through the hull.

JACK SWIGERT: And we had a pretty large bang associated with the caution and warning there.

NARRATOR: Warning lights indicate problems everywhere: fuel cells dying; maneuvering thrusters out; oxygen tanks losing pressure.

JIM LOVELL: It was not until we really saw the oxygen escape from the rear end of our spacecraft that we realized that we were in very, very deep trouble. Then we got that sinking feeling, you know that searing sensation in your stomach when you're in deep trouble and don't know how to get out of it.

JIM LOVELL: - we are venting something, we are venting something out into space -

NARRATOR: The routine stir of liquid oxygen had somehow triggered a short circuit. The oxygen tank - which fed the electrical system - had exploded. Now two of the three Command Module fuel cells are nearly dead.

SY LIEBERGOT: This is virtually a quadruple failure, and we didn't, we just didn't train for that because there really was no way out of it.

FRED HAISE: We really thought that God would not be so unkind as to give us more than one failure at one time in one system. Then there was an abort, that we had lost the mission.

NARRATOR: The original mission - exploring the lunar highlands - must now be abandoned. The new mission becomes: get the astronauts home alive!

LEON SILVER: And I'm down at the Cape, said goodbye to the guys, and I watched the launch. And then I headed for Houston, and then the word came back.

NEWSCASTER: The Apollo 13 spacecraft has had a serious power supply malfunction that could cause the lunar landing mission to be terminated early.

LEON SILVER: Without question, I was disappointed. At the beginning of an experiment, you got good people working on it, you're enthused and all. Priorities are priorities. My concern was for the crew. These are people I worked with.

NARRATOR: The Command Module's power supply is nearly spent. Soon its computer, lights, and gauges will be dead. The ground directs Lovell, Haise and Swigert, to use the Lunar Module as their lifeboat.

JIM LOVELL: We figure we've got about 15 minutes' worth of power left in the Command Module, so we want you to start getting over into LEM and getting some power on that.

NARRATOR: The LEM has its own power supply, but it's designed to support two people for 45 hours - now there will be three, and they are at least 90 hours from home. Ground Control decides they should continue around the moon, and take advantage of lunar gravity to turn them back toward Earth. Then - to get home before the power runs out - they must accelerate their crippled spacecraft by burning the LEM's small descent engine - an extremely critical maneuver that had never been tested.

JIM LOVELL: The ground was starting to send up the instructions to me of how long to make the burn, what attitude and things like that. And I had my two companions in the lunar module with me, when I looked at them - they weren't paying any attention at all. They had cameras in their hands. They said, "Well, as we should go down to the far side, we're going to take some pictures." And that's when I told them that if we didn't get home, they weren't going to get them developed anyway.

CONTROLLER: Jim, go for the burn. Go for the burn.

JIM LOVELL: Roger, I understand. Go for the burn.

JIM LOVELL: And it worked.

CONTROLLER: Ground confirms ignition.

JIM LOVELL: We're burning 40%.

JIM LOVELL: But as soon as it was over with - then we turned everything off, and we had only the radio and a little fan to circulate the atmosphere, because we had to save power.

FRED HAISE: It got very cold and very damp. My guess is it was somewhere between 35 and 40 degrees. I started having the chills and fever. It was nothing that made me incapacitated or couldn't function. It was just - added to the uncomfortableness of the situation.

NARRATOR: For three days, Lovell, Swigert and the ailing Haise huddled in the freezing lunar module. There is little to do but wait - and hope their re-entry heat shield hadn't been damaged by the explosion. Then, as they approach the Earth, another potential disaster.

JIM LOVELL: When the ground was tracking us they found out that we were not inside the free return course. And the free return course is a two degree pie shaped wedge that you have to come down into with respect to the earth's atmosphere.

JIM LOVELL: We were beneath it, which we could've missed the atmosphere or skipped out, like skipping a stone on water, and we'd be gone. So we had to make another maneuver. But our computer was down, our guidance system wasn't working, our auto pilot was off. And we had to do it literally by the seat of our pants.

NARRATOR: Lovell and Haise set the course by eye, aiming toward the Earth and fire the thrusters by hand to control the ship's direction. Swigert times the main engine's burn using his wristwatch. The course correction seems to have worked. But will the heat shield hold up? During re-entry, there is always a communications blackout that lasts about three minutes as the spaceship heats up to over 8,000 degrees. Three minutes pass - then four.

GENE KRANZ: The extended blackout period got us. It's the first time I came up and said, "Something didn't go right." And then I immediately caught myself in and said "No - it's some kind of a communications aberration. There's something wrong with the communications. This crew is coming home." I cried. As soon as I saw those parachutes, it was literally the tears flowed. And I think this was true for many of the people.

FRED HAISE: I did return. I did get back from this mission. But I think it's - it's human nature. You cannot do the preparation and the training and have the investment and accomplishing what was in the flight plan and accomplish so little. So there was that kind of a stigma for me that we just - we didn't get it done.

NARRATOR: The crew is safe. But everyone's great sense of relief is tempered by a growing realization that Apollo's days are numbered. Funding for Apollos 18, 19 and 20 is cut by Congress, reflecting a shift in national priorities that had begun years earlier - after President Kennedy's death.

PETE CONRAD: Before we ever landed on the moon President Johnson and President Nixon killed anything in the future. President Johnson, because he was having trouble with Vietnam and the Great Society. President Nixon because I think he was a good politician and the moon had gotten to be controversial even before we landed.

NARRATOR: Scientists are determined to glean everything they possibly can from the last few Apollo flights. The new lunar rover will give them more bang for the buck. Lee Silver is delighted. Now his astronaut-geologists can range several miles from their landing site, and carry hundreds of pounds of samples. Dave Scott will command Apollo 15 - the first to take the rover into space.

DAVE SCOTT: NASA actually stretched the rubber band about as far as you can go. They extended the capability of the lunar module, the propulsion system was better, the guidance was better, they added the lunar rover. We had longer duration backpacks, more consumables, more everything. So it was stretching out to the edge, and of course, we get to fly them, so we were really enthusiastic.

JIM HEAD: Dave Scott is an explorer. He saw Apollo 15 as the first extensive scientific voyage. And this was a change from the space cowboys of the earlier times when pushing the envelope, being the first to do this - I mean Dave had a real vision of what was going on, and he carried the rest of the crew with that vision, and program as well.

NARRATOR: Scott's spacecraft, too, has been reconfigured to accommodate the push for lunar research. It's the most fuel-efficient rocket yet - able to carry the extra weight of the Rover and an huge array of cameras and measuring devices.

FAROUK EL-BAZ: There had been so many changes engineering-wise to the spacecraft that we thought that maybe something would go wrong. One day I was telling the Apollo 15 group that I'm going to give you a copy of the Koran with the prayer to protect you. And Dave Scott said "Please do. We need all the help we can get."

NARRATOR: El-Baz needn't have worried. Apollo 15 arrived at the moon without a hitch even though its landing site was the trickiest yet, in the lunar highlands between a long, narrow canyon called Hadley, and a range of towering mountains known as the Apennines.

DAVE SCOTT: Hadley-Apennines certainly in my opinion, the most spectacular landing site on the moon that we could reach. It has a rill, or a canyon, it has enormous mountains - 15,000 feet above you. There's so much to see. And when you've studied the area and you think you know what you're looking for, and there's much more, and it's so clear up there -

DAVE SCOTT: Boy that's a big mountain when you're down here looking up, isn't it? My oh my. Oh look at the mountains today, Jim, when they're all sunlit. Isn't that beautiful? It really is. By golly - that's just super.

NARRATOR: The Hadley-Apennine landing site is located near Imbrium Crater - so large it can be seen from the Earth. Scientists believe the crater was formed by a huge meteor impact when the moon was young. That catastrophic collision must have kicked up rock from deep inside the lunar crust. Geologists Jim Head and Lee Silver - glued to their television screens in Houston - hope Apollo 15 is in a good spot to find some of this ancient material called anorthosite.

JIM HEAD: Anorthosite would be the deep crust that we could look at and understand. And Dave went up to the side of the mountain and he looked over and he saw these sparkling crystals glinting at him, which is rare for the moon.

DAVE SCOTT: Guess what we just found? Guess what we just found? I think we found what we came for. Crystal in rock. Yes sir. You'd better believe it. As a matter of fact, oh boy. I think we might have ourselves something close to anorthosite. Because it's crystal, and that is really a beauty. And there's - there's another one down there. Yeah. We'll get some of these.

CONTROLLER: Pack it up.

MICHAEL DUKE: It turned out to be, we think, a sample of the original crust of the moon, made four and a half billion years ago right after the initial formation of the moon.

NARRATOR: The anorthosite Dave Scott brought back is the jewel in the crown of lunar exploration. The oldest sample yet found. The press dubs it "Genesis rock." Its surprising age and chemistry - along with evidence from the other lunar samples - gradually lead to a radical new theory of the moon's origin. Four and a half billion years ago Earth was struck by a Mars-sized asteroid. This giant impact sent a massive amount of material into orbit, which coalesced, forming the moon. The theory, ridiculed at first, but now widely accepted, was developed by planetary scientist William Hartmann.

WM. HARTMANN: Apollo itself tied together the history of the moon with the history of the earth, so that it made us aware that we live in this system. We're not just living on an isolated planet, but we have this neighbor and the neighbor records the early history of the system, because there's virtually no erosion there. And the earth records the last part of the history of the system. But if you put the two together we get the whole story.

NARRATOR: The moon's presence changed the Earth in profound ways. Its gravitational pull stabilized the young Earth's wildly fluctuating axis of rotation, setting up the conditions for everything we take for granted about the our planet: moderate temperatures, liquid water, tides, life itself. December, 1972. After seven years of debate within NASA, a scientist will go to the moon. Geologist Jack Schmitt will fly on Apollo 17 with mission commander, Gene Cernan.

GENE CERNAN: There was a lot of pressure from the scientific community for a scientist to fly an Apollo before it was all over. Jack never took no for answer. He sort of became a pain in a lot of people's butt. And it basically - Deke Slayton, our boss, got a directive that Jack Schmitt would fly on an Apollo mission. And there was only left, and it was Apollo 17.

NARRATOR: Three and a half years after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had set out for man's first lunar landing, the last moonshot lights the midnight sky at Cape Kennedy. The only Apollo night launch is precisely timed so the crew can touch down in the clear light of the lunar dawn.

GENE CERNAN: OK. Standby for pitchover.

JACK SCHMITT: Boy, are we coming in.

GENE CERNAN: Pitch over. There it is proceeded. And there it is - we've done it. There's Camelot. Right on target.

JACK SCHMIT: I see it. We got -

NARRATOR: Cernan and Schmitt's landing site is a deep, mysterious valley between the Taurus Mountains and Littrow Crater.

GENE CERNAN: Ten feet. Got contact. OK. Houston the Challenger has landed.

NARRATOR: The astronaut and the geologist are not only on the moon, they're in heaven.

GENE CERNAN: I was strolling on the moon one day, in the merry, merry month of December.


GENE CERNAN: May the month is.

JACK SCHMITT: We were in a valley deeper than the Grand Canyon - one of extraordinary geological variability - one that we now were finally going to have a change to explore. This is a geologist's paradise if I ever saw one.

NARRATOR: Cernan and Schmitt have little time simply to sight-see. Nearly every minute is tightly scheduled, setting up experiments and collecting samples.

JACK SCHMITT: Here's a nicely structured rock that we probably ought to work -

GENE CERNAN: - There's a lot of lineation in some of that white material, Jack.

JACK SCHMITT: - Probably the braccia. It's got a little dust cover.

GENE CERNAN: Look where the contact between the gray area.

JACK SCHMITT: Right. And it's on both sides.

GENE CERNAN: - Oh, hey. There is orange soil.

JACK SCHMITT: - I can see it from here. It's orange.

NARRATOR: Even when they stumble upon an unexpected discovery, their time must be carefully rationed.

JACK SCHMITT: Let me put my visor up. It's still orange.

JIM LOVELL: They've got to leave at a certain time regardless of what we got.

CONTROLLER: Guys. We don't have that much time.

GENE CERNAN: I know, Bob. I know.

JACK SCHMITT: You're going to leave the moon at a certain time and you have to work everything in. And you have to get through that frustration of not having enough time to do everything you'd want.

NARRATOR: After three days of seven-hour EVAs, Schmitt and Cernan have collected over 200 pounds of samples. Now their supplies of oxygen and water are nearly spent.

JIM LOVELL: Gene is finished with the core tube. Then we should be able to go.

NARRATOR: Cernan and Schmitt head back to the LEM, ending the explorations of Apollo. But neither man could have guessed they would be the last moon-walkers of the 20th Century.

STEPHEN BALES: When they write the history books and they say man landed on the moon from 1969-1972, and then did not go back for at least 30 years, maybe 40, maybe 50. I hope not, but maybe that long. It would be sort of hard to explain, I guess, as an historian.

DAVE SCOTT: We could've run more missions, but in historical perspective - gosh it's only been 30 years. That isn't long. When you look at the major explorations in history, there are hundreds - 200 years between the major events. So we're regrouping now.

GENE CERNAN: When I started walking up that ladder I realized - hey this is it. Somewhat of a nostalgic moment. You looked around - I looked back at the earth and realized I'm never going to be here again. Somebody will, but I'm not. And I wanted to sort of leave a challenge for that - for those who would follow. And I wasn't sure what I was going to say until I said it, quite frankly. And I wanted it to have our challenge - the challenge of Apollo - sort of have something to do with the destiny of those who follow. Here's the challenge - the door's open. The door is cracked. It - you now have the opportunity to go on from here. And my exact words - "we now leave as we once came, and God willing is we shall return with peace and hope for all mankind. And may America's challenge - "

GENE CERNAN: - challenge of today. Forge man's destiny of tomorrow.

CONTROLLER: Godspeed to the crew of Apollo 17.

NARRATOR: The quest that began as a desperate race against the Russians at the height of the Cold War, has ended. How ironic that an effort born of bitter conflict produced the most profound images ever seen of the interconnectedness of mankind, and opened a window on our common origins. Ironic, too, that it ended so soon. The whole grand endeavor, barely a dozen years from start to finish. Today the abandoned launch platforms loom like some 20th century Stonehenge, monuments to the incredible achievements of decades past. Surely man will return to the moon and venture beyond, but in the new millennium, it will most likely be private enterprise, not political necessity or even scientific curiosity that will propel the efforts. But wherever we may go in the universe, those first visits to another world from 1969 to 1972 will always live in human memory as Chapter One of the great adventure.

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SFX DIRECTOR: We're synthesizing reality.

JAMES CAMERON: The director has to be on his game when you're dealing with effects because you've got to keep it alive for the actors.

NARRATOR: Behind the scenes - special effects masters are breaking the rules, creating a world where anything can happen. The art of illusion meets the science of perception. In Special Effects: Titanic and Beyond.


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