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For All Mankind

Having always been interested in seeing the depths of space, there’s really no comparable experience to watching For All Mankind. It’s a near-perfect documentary on the subject, featuring over an hour of footage selected from NASA’s incredible archives. Perhaps it’s my own fault for never seeking out such a thing before now, but I never expected to see such a great collage of ventures to the moon. We know that it happened, and we saw some of it, and then we started focusing on conflict and a devastated economy.

A view of the moon from inside a shuttle just before initial launch.

There are plenty of scientific reasons to go to the moon, but such an event goes far beyond science; it was a huge landmark in our history, with some big, historical names and quotes. Even having been alive when it happened, we very nearly experienced the event from a history book’s point of view. Who picked off the street could tell you much more than some Apollo numbers and perhaps the quote referenced in this documentary’s title? That we saw some footage of a spaceship blasting off, a bit of footage of some guys floating around in a cramped shuttle?

A shuttle discards some of its exterior after leaving Earth.

Although Mankind isn’t particularly long, it serves to give a very comprehensive view of the collected experiences of our moon landings. The style in which this happens is particularly notable and very admirable; there are no talking heads to be found, refreshing in itself, but in its place we hear astronauts talking about the feelings they had throughout the experiences, radio chatter, and music played off of tape players spinning around in an environment without Earth’s gravity. We hear them messing around, enjoying the Moon’s unique gravitational pull, and considering the danger of their experience.

Two astronauts on the Moon.

The way in which this information is presented, with little to no explanation of who is talking, what part of the expedition we are actually witnessing, or even which expedition we are witnessing, is used to highlight something beyond the names and dates and events; the landmark of what it is the expeditions were accomplishing, the first time humans left the Earth. Sometimes in such a rapidly developing society it is easy to forget what a big accomplishment we made, how far the Moon really is from us, the blackness that our men had to face on the trip there, the deaths that occurred on the way. And even when we hear that we made it to the Moon, hearing astronauts explain things from their point of view is infinitely more valuable in comprehending the gravity of the situation, much more interesting than many of the things that were witnessed through the media during the events themselves.

A shuttle blasts off.

It’s hard to imagine what a goldmine of human narrative lay in NASA’s archives, but For All Mankind brings us as close as it possibly could to a fair summary. It’s filled with absolutely breathtaking imagery, and its fair share of charm as well as philosophy and sadness. I don’t think we’ll ever be seeing a more comprehensive or stimulating look at this scarcer side of America’s early space history.

Rating: Excellent