Parents' Guide to

When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions

By Anne Louise Bannon, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 8+

Fascinating look at space program's history.

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As a straight history of NASA, this documentary series is excellent. It doesn't shy away from the many, many failures and screw-ups the program faced -- in fact, you'll be amazed that as many of these guys survived as they did. But it does make a few sins of omission, starting with minimal mention of the two reasons for that impressive survival rate: tons of redundancies/back ups and pure dumb luck. The other omission is that the show seems to take place in a vacuum. There's no mention of either the political environment at the time of NASA's birth or of the Cold War, both of which were key reasons that the program even existed. President John F. Kennedy's death isn't mentioned either, despite the fact that the series uses lots of footage of him.

All of that said, it's still a riveting series. Particularly impressive are the voices of the astronauts and mission control personnel. They're good story tellers, with one heck of a story to tell -- and, at the same, they're remarkably stoic men, and their understatement will drop your jaw. For example, William Anders of Apollo 8 talks almost blandly about how he figured there was a good chance that the rocket would blow up on the launch pad -- or, if it didn't, a good chance that they'd get lost on the way home. Even more interesting is how often the guys talk about how much fun it all was. Ultimately, When We Left Earth is more inspiring than not and is a mostly good telling of what were then -- and still are today -- phenomenal feats of engineering, science, and courage.

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