It is hard to believe that we have been exploring outside of the confines of our small blue green planet for over 50 years. NASA in many ways have become our much overlooked, and underfunded government agency that has done so much for the country, and indeed the world as a whole. People tend to overlook the everyday items that exist because of NASA, you would not have non-stick fry pans for example, Teflon was invented from the need to provide a slick surface that could withstand heat.

I have long been a fan of the Discovery Channel, when they produce a series, they do it with style. When We Left Earth is without doubt the best documentary about our sometimes faltering first footsteps to the stars. With 6 one hour episodes and a host of bonus features, this is a must have, for any space fan.

The Gemini and Mercury series of launches were pivotal in our quest for space. Seven unique, and very intrepid men became our first astronauts. “Light this candle” a frustrated Alan Shepard implores, he has spent hours in the cramped confines of the capsule, he is our first astronaut, and he is pissed!

To this day the story of what happened with Gus Grissom and Liberty Bell 7 is hotly debated. Did Gus panic in landing and blow the explosive hatch on the capsule, or was it a malfunction? We likely will never know.

John Glen is a name that everyone has heard, the first man to orbit the earth. John Glen did not have a Disney World ride though, there was a major worry, the heat shield required to prevent the capsule from burning up during re-entry appears to be malfunctioning. As we now know, John Glen survived, and the problem turned out to be a malfunctioning micro switch.

NASA’s next project was Apollo and the quest to put a man on the moon. President Kennedy using maybe a little too much testosterone had ensured the world that a man would stand on the moon before the decade of the 60’s was over. Indeed NASA pulled the project off. I was 14 years old and living in England, I stayed up till 4 AM to watch the grainy TV shots and hear the immortal words “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”.

Apollo was not without it’s issues. the ill fated Apollo 13 is likely the best known, and most misquoted, to clear it up once and for all the quote is “Houston we have had a problem”. Apollo in my mind was the era of Duct Tape. I do not mean that in a bad way, it was an era where ingenuity was required. Using what limited resources were available these intrepid folks pushed ahead.

I really like this Discovery series, the four DVD set amounts to over 10 hours of great archival footage combined with a great commentary. From Gemini to the ISS this series is a must have for anyone that loves our quest for the next step.

You can get your copy from Amazon (because you can’t have mine)!

Simon Barrett

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