'Wonder of It All' Offers Behind the Scenes Look at Apollo
By: Jim Hodges
It began with an overheard exchange in a restaurant near the airport in Burbank, Calif., five years ago.
Jeff Roth, who does television camera work and wanted to make movies, was sitting with a friend, and in the booth behind them were three Apollo astronauts.
He won't say which three. He may not have known.
"I told my friend, 'No one here even knows who they are,' " Roth said. "A light bulb goes off."
On Tuesday, the light from that bulb was shown twice in the Reid Center auditorium at NASA's Langley Research Center. An 82-minute documentary, "The Wonder of It All," was greeted by about 500 people, a forerunner of what will be somewhat limited public distribution through theater, DVD, Blue Ray and pay-per-view later in the summer.
"When you're with an audience, you get a feeling," said Roth. "If they're pretty antsy you know that you aren't holding their interest."
These audiences sat still, captivated by Eugene Cernan's saying that his flight on Apollo 17 "wasn't a religious experience … but it was spiritual." And by Buzz Aldrin's reflection that during his flight on Apollo 11, on which he and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, "we had a tremendous effect on a lot of people, but we weren't around to see it."
They heard John Young's opinion that "I thought we were going to go to the moon, put up a base and stay there. We should have done that. If we had, the world would be infinitely better off than it is today." And Edgar Mitchell's answering a question as to whether he read history, "Yes, but right now I'm too busy making it to read much about it."
It’s a film made by a man who was a year from being born when Apollo 11 touched down on the moon.
"We didn't pick this because it was about a moon launch," Roth said. "We picked it because it was a good story."
The only narration is a brief one before the opening credits, and it serves to set up the story. Then that story is told by seven astronauts, from their youth to education to flight training to selection to the astronaut program to the space flights themselves and afterward.
Filming itself took more than a year. The process began by introducing the young filmmakers selling themselves to the astronauts.
"We had to persuade them," Roth said. "We had to tell them, 'we want to spend a lot of time with you and talk about a lot of personal and private things.' "
Interviews became more like conversations, with poignant and unexpected replies woven through the story, such as Alan Bean's initial resentment that Alan Shepard spent time to hit a golf shot on the moon.
"I was in Mission Control, and I said, 'Why is he doing that? Why isn't he picking up more rocks?' " Bean said. "It took me a couple of years to realize that that was a bad thought. He should have done exactly what he did. "We should have done something like that and picked up less rocks. We've got plenty of rocks on Earth from the moon, but maybe not enough good stories.
So I said, 'Pete (Conrad), why didn't we think of that?' And Pete said, 'Well, we're not golfers.' "
There was the inevitable description of the moon, taken a step further because it came from those who were there.
"It had a serenity to it," said Aldrin. "A quietness."
"How can something so desolate be so magnificent?" Cernan pondered.
Sixteen hours of film were trimmed to 82 minutes over about a year and a half. The entire process was funded by the filmmakers, though not necessarily by choice. In this economy, investors aren't looking for novice filmmakers with a story that is most likely to appeal to middle-aged theatergoers.
Or, as was the case Tuesday, to aspiring NASA engineers on summer internships. Or those caught up in space exploration, perhaps eager to learn or review some history.
NASA Langley Research Center
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor and Responsible NASA Official: H. Keith Henry
Editor and Curator: Denise Lineberry