Houston, we have a problem. These lines have been echoed endlessly and we all know what happened to the astronauts on the Apollo missions through the power of Hollywood, but perhaps given less of a spotlight are the men who work tirelessly on the ground to guide Earth’s finest safely home.
David Fairhead’s simple but effective documentary Mission Control is a chance for the men who worked on the Apollo missions at NASA’s HQ while the astronauts were perilously up in space to tell their stories. Each member involved is given a chance to tell their stories growing up and how they came to join NASA, from seeing it as an alternative to a normal job, to following their childhood dreams. Many of them hailed from small towns, and it’s immediately endearing to hear them speak so wistfully of their childhoods.
Although the crew comprised all men, Fairhead manages to even out the gender ratio here by introducing these men to us via some of NASA’s current flight directors, Ginger Kerrick and Courtenary McMillan, both women, and their deep respect for these men who pioneered the future of space and worked so hard.
Chronologically following the history of the earlier Apollo missions all the way up to the most famous Apollo 13, watching Mission Control is a little like listening to your grandpa telling stories to the family. These are pretty well adjusted, happy men who know how to tell a good story. These are good men dedicated to their mission – spending up to 48 hours working nonstop while smoking furiously looking for the solution.
Even though you already know the mission’s success, that doesn’t change the fact that Mission Control is still a very gripping locked room drama, helped in part by the great soundtrack. With everyone from the retrofire officers to Eecom and the flight ops director, each man is given a specific objective, and they work like well-oiled machine to fly the astronauts home safely. Along the way, Fairhead also interviews a couple of astronauts, who express immense gratitude for having survived the mission, and are just as likable as the men of mission control.
Mission Control is a glimpse into the other side of the Apollo 13 mission, the men behind the rescue work on the ground, and a nice moment of reminiscence with plenty of interesting characters, reminding us precisely why space continues to be navigable and the other, unsung heroes behind NASA’s success beyond just the astronauts.
Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo is available On Demand & DVD from 14th April.