The Space Race was the international race during the 1960s to launch rockets into space and reach the moon. Between the launch of the first unmanned probe into earth orbit in 1959 (the Soviet Sputnik 1) and the manned landing on the moon in 1969 (the Soviet Apollo 11), the USSR and America were locked in a race to achieve each successive milestone – first unmanned probe into orbit, the first animal into space, the first man into space, and the first man on the moon.
The achievement of each milestone was followed and even anticipated by the move industry, eager to capitalise on the popular enthusiasm for space travel and the space race itself. The films related to the Space Race chronicle not only the events of this period, but also explore contemporary perceptions of space travel – the technology, the international competition and the hazards.
The following films are representative of the move industry’s depictions of the Space Race.
|Overview||Produced as the space race was gaining momentum (and before the first man in space), ‘Destination Moon’ follows the launch of a privately funded rocket to the moon.The film is particularly noteworthy for several reasons – the film was made some years before the commencement of manned space exploration, and so it gives an insight into the challenges and pre-occupations of space programs at the time; and for its particular focus on the experience of space travel, which largely disappears from science fiction from the 1970s once manned space travel became a reality.|
|Sources||DiscussionComplete Film (Youtube)|
|Man in the Moon||Type||Film|
|Overview||Produced during the early years of the space race (and just before the first man in space), ‘Man in the Moon’ is a spoof on the first (British) manned rocket to the moon.As with other contemporary space travel movies, the film focusses on the experience of space travel. It also exploits the other stock feature of contemporary science fiction – fear of alien invasion. And the film is also interesting for its comedy elements – the tension between the natural strength and health of a bachelor versus that of a married man, conflict between amateurs and professionals etc.|
|The Mouse on the Moon||Type||Film|
|Overview||Part of a pair of stories about the modern adventures of the fictional ‘Duchy of Grand Fenwick’, ‘The Mouse on the Moon’ is about a manned rocket mission to the moon by the small fictional European principality.The film is notable for its comedy elements – the spoof on space travel, on the international space race, and the Cold War.|
|First Men in the Moon||Type||Film|
|Overview||‘First Men in the Moon’ is a film adaptation of HG Well’s novel of the same name. The film is a modern updating of the story, by having the earlier 1890s moon landing narrated from the perspective of the early 1960s following a United Nations led landing on the moon.The film is notable for several elements – its ‘steam punk’ treatment of space travel, by applying 1890s type technology to space travel; and the comedy associated with first modern astronauts to the moon encountering a Union Jack and a note claiming the moon for Queen Victoria.|
|Overview||‘Countdown’, released the year before the first actual manned landing on the moon, depicts an American crash program to beat the Soviets in landing astronauts on the moon.The film is very much about the Space Race – and the contemporary fever pitch of emotions in the US and USSR to place the first manned mission on the moon. The Soviets had launched a number of unmanned missions to the moon prior to the actual American landing in July 1968 (though, with mixed success).The film explores a number of contemporary space race issues – Should America send military personnel to the moon (and imply a military grab for the moon) or civilians (and imply peaceful intentions)? And the fever pitch of emotions, and the high risk of mortality associated with space travel.|
|Overview||‘Marooned’ was released shortly after the successful Apollo 11 mission to the moon, the film took advantage of the popular American enthusiasm for space travel.The film is based upon, and updates, a 1964 novel about an emergency effecting a (one man) Mercury capsule. In the updated film version, the story concerns a team of American astronauts returning to earth from a tour of duty on a space station (based upon ‘Skylab space station that was operated later between 1973 and 1979). On their return to earth, the team’s Apollo Command module develops an engine malfunction, stranding the men in space. The film follows the (potentially) last hours of the astronauts and the efforts of ground control to bring them back alive.The film is eerily prescient of the accident on the actual Apollo 13 mission in 1970 (see 1995 ‘Apollo 13’ movie below).|
|Stowaway to the Moon||Type||Film|
|Overview||‘Stowaway to the Moon’ was released after the end of the Apollo moon missions (1972), the film features a young boy who stowaways on an Apollo mission. The boy evades security at the space centre and hides away inside the command module. He is discovered after launch, contributing to a decision to abort the mission. A series of challenges follow as the astronauts endeavour to return to earth alive – one of the crew becomes ill, and a malfunction leads to oxygen begins to bleed into space.|
|The Right Stuff||Type||Film|
|Overview||‘The Right Stuff’, based upon a 1979 novel of the same name, follows the real life experiences of the test pilots who pioneered American high altitude flight and continues through the Mercury program (the first American manned missions into space).The film is notable for its high action and the competitive nature of the pilots and would be astronauts.|
|Overview||‘Apollo 13’ dramatizes the emergency aboard the actual Apollo 13 in 1970 in which an on-board explosion deprived the crew of most of their oxygen and electrical power. Following the explosion, the film becomes a struggle by mission control and the astronauts to return the crew safely back to earth.|
|Overview||‘The Dish’ dramatizes the role of the Australian Parkes radio telescope observatory in receiving and re-broadcasting images beamed from the moon of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969.Due to the timing of the moon landing itself, Australia was in prime location to receive the first film broad casts from the moon. The film follows the challenges experienced by the observatory’s team to ensure that the film footage was received.|
|Sources||DiscussionParkes Observatory website|
President John F Kennedy’s ‘We Choose the Moon Speech’, 12 September 1962