SXSW Film Festival Documentary Review: MISSION CONTROL - THE UNSUNG HEROES OF APOLLO

MISSION CONTROL: THE UNSUNG HEROES OF APOLLO is much different to the regular fare I cover for Nightmarish Conjurings - and by that, I mean it isn't a horror flick. Instead, this is a documentary that collects firsthand accounts of scientists and engineers involved in the Apollo missions during the 60's and 70's. These are the people who took man to space, and eventually landed up on the moon. This is inspirational stuff - as far away from horror as you can get, right?

But on the other hand, is there anything scarier than space? It's vastness is incomprehensible. It's cold, it's dark, and those who find themselves there are more isolated than anyone in the history of mankind. It's outside the outside of life's comfort zone. It's also the most likely place to come face to face with cosmic horrors - ancient, gibbering, horrible starspawn that can reduce the entire human race to drooling insanity and eventual destruction with a mere Lovecraftian sneeze. 

Okay, so maybe that last part may be a bit far-fetched and I've probably been reading too much "Call of Cthulhu", but regardless, the men and women of this documentary certainly faced up against the horrors of space travel and won. For the most part, at least. 

Usually, it's the astronauts who get all the credit for space exploration, with the brains who stayed firmly planted to earth forgotten amongst the lauding and commendations. Yes, actually climbing inside a giant explosive rocket may require more balls than nature's usual allotment of two, but the folks we meet in MISSION CONTROL have testicular fortitude of a different kind. Can you imagine putting enough faith in your knowledge to launch men into space? Can you imagine putting your conscience so precariously on the line in the case of catastrophic failure? 

The people who did these things are the ones telling the stories in this important documentary. 

We learn about the sacrifice they made to further mankind. We learn about the people that were lost. The saddest portion of the film covers the guilt and remorse felt when a fire killed three potential astronauts during training. The blame fell on the entire science crew, and you can see the regret and pain is still there 50 years after the fact. We hear of the toll taken on their family lives - the personal impact - and one many says if given the chance, he wouldn't do it all over again because of the time he lost with his children. 

These men don't mince words, which makes sense considering they were hired for their logical and empirical approach to problems. Essentially, MISSION CONTROL is a bunch of old guys telling stories and, I'll be honest, I love listening to old guys telling stories. Especially about space and science, so I might be a bit biased in saying that this is a good film. Other may find the proceedings a little dry, so your passion for the subject matter will determine your mileage. 

There must be something happening in the cultural zeitgeist for this film and HIDDEN FIGURES to emerge at around the same time. Both give attention to important NASA folks who are marginalized by history, but obviously from alternate perspectives. Even though they cover very different ground, MISSION CONTROL and HIDDEN FIGURES tell important stories that need to be preserved, and it's great to see filmmakers taking up the challenge in these narrative and documentary projects respectively. These are the stories of people who should be celebrated by society, rather than the modern trend of giving attention to outrage, or those with the greatest capacity for inciting outrage. 

Firsthand accounts like the ones found in MISSION CONTROL are massively precious and will hopefully inspire further generations to chase the dream of man reaching the stars. After all, the work done by these people could be what preserves the human race in the long, long, long run. If we want to survive, we must spread our civilization beyond the solar system and out into the universe's great unknown...

...especially if we're going to escape devourment in the gaping maw of a planet-eating Ancient One. 

NonSequitur