Part 9 of 12
Date of airing: May 3, 1998 (HBO)
This episode turned from a depiction of the Apollo 14 mission into a biography of Alan B. Shepard Jr., which seemed like it was the right thing to do. FROM THE EARHT TO THE MOON hasn’t been known to focus on the characters, because it looked like the missions were more important for the writers and producers, but now that all the major historical events have been breakfasted throughout the show and there aren’t any more Firsts to get through and celebrate them with patriotism as major historical facts, the writers finally got an opportunity to focus on the people behind the mission and give them depth, and maybe even get into the science of the missions. And holy cow, did Alan Shepard have depth in this episode. From being the first American in space, who gets ridiculed and roasted for being in space for only 15 minutes, gets confused for John Glenn, gets made fun of during banquets for the little work he has done to become part of spaceflight history, to the fifth human being on the moon, it’s kind of astounding, especially when you bring his medical history into his story, and how there was a chance he would never fly again, becoming a caricature of himself, as the once celebrated American astronaut would turn into a forgotten footnote in American history. According to this episode, he must have had a tense life, and not just because he is being made a joke out of, thanks to him being the first American person in space. I’s almost like he had to prove to the entire world that he was still an astronaut and a pilot by taking part in the Apollo program and making himself available to step on the moon. Alan Shepard was actively trying to write his own legacy.
Watching this episode, I realized that Shepard is an interesting personality for a biopic in the vein of FIRST MAN, simply because of the fact that he was going through some medical troubles and then had to show everyone off at the end. Besides that, the auto abort drama right before the descent made for another spaceflight thriller, and once more I realized how much I am getting out of FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON, not having known about all the little problems the crews had faced during their spaceflights. Besides, the notion of an on-board computer being manipulated into thinking it’s already in auto-abort mode when it really wasn’t gives me chills. Something in the coding of the software must have happened for the computer to force Antares into an auto-abort, and something must have happened to the computer when Shepard and Ed Mitchell were rewriting the software, while waiting to descent to the lunar surface. Holy hell, that is some kickass technology making here – I would sweat all my salty waters out, knowing I had to rewrite a software while also preparing to land on the moon, and all this within less than an hour, because a) the Antares was closing in on the far side of the moon, and b) the ship was probably not allowed to be in orbit for this long. It does tell you how focused the astronauts must have been, and how the missions were never easy, let alone free of certain hiccups. At the end of the day, the explosion at Apollo 13 was just a hiccup, but one that happened to create a ton more hiccups. The Apollo 14 flight only had one hiccup, and lucky for the astronauts it only troubled them during the time before the descent.
Meanwhile, the biographical bits and pieces of Alan Shepards’s life were interesting. I laughed when the secretary put the “mood of the day” picture of Alan’s pissed-off and angry face on the door, and I was worried for the guy when he didn’t know whether he would fly or not, including the scene on the training grounds, when he had to tell his crew they were grounded from Apollo 13. I mean, here is a guy with a questionable health record and because he never gave up on flying again, he stood with the program and essentially had to be grounded again, with two of his crew who were perfectly healthy and ready to fly. Shepard’s ego almost might have killed the career and spaceflight aspects of Mitchell and Stu Roosa, but I guess all these astronauts were professionals, and they didn’t take it personal when the health of one of them grounded them all. That makes me think, was Ken Mattingly only replaced with Jack Swigert, because Apollo 13 was to launch in a few days, and if the fear of Mattingly getting the German measles had arrived earlier, the entire crew would have been swapped? Hey Deke Slayton, maybe you should get into it a little, because it’s an interesting thing to talk about.