22 June 2008

Flash Review: When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions

"When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions" is a six part documentary of the United States' manned spaceflight program. Billed as the definitive High Definition chronicle of the space program, the program doesn't even come close to living up to the billing.

Far from being an authoritative review of the space program, "When We Left Earth" is little more than NASA-porn: quite pretty, but lacking in depth and substance, and - at times - featuring some glaring errors or omissions.

Part of the problem is due to the fact that the series is attempting to chronicle over forty-five years of history in six televised hours (less, in fact, when you count out the commercials). There is no real way to chronicle the space program in such a short period of time, but to make matters worse (at least for a nitpicker like me) footage is played fast and loose, and key events in the life of the space program are essentially ignored.

I was shocked when the overview of the maiden flight of the Columbia (STS-1) was dismissed in under two minutes with no mention of the fact that mission controllers were concerned about re-entry from the missing tiles on the ship. Other glaring omissions include the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, Sally Ride's first mission, and the first Return to Flight of the shuttle era.

Sound clips and video footage was also featured from wrong missions (for example, External Tank, SRB, and vehicle footage from the post-Columbia era of retrn to flight shown in the early days of the shuttle).

Far from being a substantial history of the space program, it is little more than a titillating sketchbook-type overview of the space program, "When We Left Earth" is easily overshadowed by even older (outdated) series such as PBS' "Spaceflight".


All original material (C) 2007-2010 by Father Robert Lyons.

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