A Movie About Leaving Earth
Over my forty-plus years at Janus and Criterion, few films have meant more to me than For All Mankind, because of my lifelong passion for space travel. I remember being a second-semester freshman and registering for Astronomy 101. It was rumored that this would be the last introductory astronomy course Carl Sagan would ever teach, and that ultimately became true due to his early death. He showed us a picture of the full Earth taken during the Apollo missions. Thinking of the way he would later describe Earth in a photograph taken from the Voyager 1 spacecraft as a “pale blue dot,” I can vividly hear him saying, “Everything we have ever known has taken place on that planet.”
The following spring, I wrote a letter to NASA asking for a summer internship and ended up getting one in the history department. The NASA public relations staff was mostly at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, covering the Voyager 2 spacecraft flyby of Jupiter. This left a void in Washington, and I stepped in as an official NASA spokesperson for the much-heralded reentry of Skylab. It was the summer of the tenth anniversary of the moon landing, and I attended the celebration at the National Air and Space Museum. I was offered a job, but it was a slow time—the last Apollo flight had flown in 1975, and the first shuttle flight would not happen until three years later—and there didn’t seem much room for me to grow a career there.
Just shy of ten years later I was in New York working at Janus Films and newly immersed in the early days of Criterion. A friend sent me a tape of For All Mankind, a film about the Apollo lunar missions, at a point when the project needed some finishing money, and my life was forever changed. I had a wonderful conversation with the filmmaker, Al Reinert. We talked shop. I told him I was in awe. I got up the courage to mention that there was actually Gemini 4 footage in the film and that he had made a mistake, thinking for a moment that I knew more than he did. He laughed and said, “No mistake.” “It was so cool,” he said, “how could I leave it out?” I learned a lot about Al that day and about what For All Mankind was all about. Certainly, the film depicts dials and close calls with low fuel levels and scientific communications between Mission Control and the astronauts, but it was much more than that. It was about the human ability to imagine something beyond daily life on this planet.
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