Series: From the Earth to the Moon

We choose to go to the Moon... we choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

From the Earth to the Moon is a 1998 twelve part HBO miniseries detailing the Apollo program in the 1960s and early 70s.

Based on the book A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin, it was co-produced by Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Tom Hanks, and Michael Bostick (Hanks also introduces all but one episode). The show stays more true to actual events than most docudrama or historical fiction, making it more or less a documentary composed of re-enactments.

  • Part 1: Can We Do This? depicts the original inception of the Apollo project, and the early Mercury and Gemini flights.
  • Part 2: Apollo 1 depicts the tragic Apollo 1 fire, and the investigation that followed it.
  • Part 3: We Have Cleared the Tower depicts the flight of the first manned Apollo flight, from the point of view of a documentary film crew making a movie about it.
  • Part 4: 1968. The flight of Apollo 8, the first to leave Earth orbit, and to circle the moon, set against the backdrop of civil unrest in the US, and the world.
  • Part 5: Spider depicts the development of the Lunar Module, and its test flights with Apollo 9 and 10.
  • Part 6: Mare Tranquilitatis. The flight of Apollo 11, and man's first steps on the moon.
  • Part 7: That's All There Is. The flight of Apollo 12.
  • Part 8: We Interrupt This Program. Apollo 13. Since Tom Hanks had already done the astronauts' and ground crew side of this story, this episode concentrated on the news media coverage of the flight.
  • Part 9: For Miles and Miles. Follows Alan Shepard, from being grounded after his first 15 minute Mercury flight because of an inner ear problem that gave him vertigo, to his return to flight status, and the flight of Apollo 14.
  • Part 10: Galileo Was Right. The training of the astronauts to work as geologists, and the flight of Apollo 15.
  • Part 11: The Original Wives Club follows the lives of some of the astronauts' wives, and the troubles they have. Apollo 16
  • Part 12: Le Voyage Dans La Lune. Tom Hanks stars as the assistant to film maker Georges Méliès, as he makes his revolutionary 1902 film, set against the flight of Apollo 17. Some of the actors also portray their characters, 30 years after the Apollo flights, reflecting back on the program and what it accomplished. (This is the only episode not to be introduced by Hanks; Blythe Danner fills in.)

This series provides examples of

  • Ace Pilot: The astronauts, naturally. Wally Schirra stands out among them as The Ace.
  • Anachronic Order: Although each episode occurs in a linear order in terms of which mission it highlights, several ("Spider", "For Miles and Miles" and "The Original Wives Club" in particular) begin their narratives quite a bit before the events of earlier episodes.
  • As You Know: In Spider, after they went fishing, James McDivitt talks to David Scott and Rusty Schweickart about what they will have to accomplish on the Apollo 9 mission.
    McDivitt: But you guys are right: it's a lot for one mission, maybe too much. We get even half of it done, we can call it a success. I can't wait!
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Pete Conrad was a consummate goof who made sure that everyone around him was laughing and having a good time. He was actually cut from the first pool of astronaut applicants because his flippant methods of coping with the stresses examiners put on him made him "unsuitable for long-duration flight". He was also a navy test pilot who, when he was younger, had learned to work around his dyslexia so well that he went to Princeton on a full scholarship.
    • Wally Schirra was somewhat similar to Conrad. As Nurse Dee O'Hara mentions in "We Have Cleared The Tower," his co-workers nicknamed him Jolly Wally because he loved practical jokes.
    • Neil Armstrong was near-universally considered a little odd by everyone who met him because he was so quiet and seemingly unimpressed by the monumental feats he accomplished.
  • Breather Episode: Apollo 12 did not have the drama of either Apollo 11 or Apollo 13, and it was flown by three men who decidedly were not of the serious mold.
    Pete Conrad: [on taking his first steps on the Moon] Yipee! That may have been a small one for Neil, but it was a big one for me!note 
  • Chekhov's Lecture: "Galileo Was Right" invents a whole new science, Lunar field geology. The drill is first learned on Earth.
  • Cool Car:
    • Chevrolet was more than happy to provide astronauts with Corvettes at dealer cost, knowing that the public would be eager to drive the same cars that astronauts going to the moon did.
      • Pete Conrad arranged it so that the Apollo 12 crew had matching gold Corvettes with their names and titles emblazoned on the doors.
    • The Lunar Rovers that flew with Apollos 15, 16 and 17.
  • Cool Teacher: Invoked with Professor Silver from Caltech, as NASA seeks out a man to stimulate the astronauts' minds. Silver is a poignant scholar who replaces dry lectures with field work. Topographer and Funny Foreigner Farouk El-Baz also qualifies.
    • Truth in Television. Several of the Apollo astronauts have spoken very highly of Silver and his teaching methods.
  • Danger Deadpan: Several examples, none of which are very surprising since most of the astronauts are military test pilots and therefore good at reacting calmly to unexpected problems. The astronauts have also gone through countless simulated emergencies on the ground before their missions ("Mare Tranquilitatis" depicts some of those simulations).
    • Neil Armstrong and Dave Scott's Gemini 8 spacecraft starts spinning wildly out of control, and they proceed to have a calm and rational discussion about how to solve this problem.
    • Another one with Neil Armstrong: he and Buzz Aldrin don't sound at all anxious during their Apollo 11 landing, even though it's the first manned landing on the Moon, they're having communication problems, the computer is experiencing program alarms, the automatic guidance system is leading them into a boulder field, and they're rapidly running out of fuel.
      • Actually averted in real life. If you listen to the actual recordings, while the men were not panicking, their voice do betray some urgency, tension and alarm.
    • Pete Conrad talking to Mission Control after Apollo 12 is struck by lightning. He does raise his voice a little to be heard over a multitude of caution and warnings, but he is still speaking steadily and without fear. In real life, Conrad actually started giggling in relief once the problem was resolved and couldn't stop until they were in orbit.
  • Darker and Edgier: "1968" defines this strongly, by juxtaposing one of the unmanned test flights of the Saturn V moon rocket and Martin Luther King's assassination, that same day. Not letting up on the point that 1968 seemed to be the year that America tried to commit suicide, the episode notes Robert Kennedy's assassination, the race riots, and many other hellish or downer news of that year. The episode is saved from a Downer Ending when a Mission Control communicator reads a letter to the astronauts that simply said, "You saved 1968" as they returned from the first successful escape to another world.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: "1968" is filmed in black-and-white for all scenes on Earth, where things are going to hell in a handbasket, while the scenes in space are in color.
    • Other episodes such as Apollo 1 use monochrome to indicate a past event with the "present day" (1967) scenes being in colour.
  • Determinator: Pretty much everyone in one way or another, but Alan Shepard's efforts to get back on the flight roster stand out.
  • Documentary Episode: "We Have Cleared the Tower" follows a film crew making a documentary about the Apollo 7 mission.
  • Dramatic Irony: Well, the entire series is if you've read up on America's space exploration history, but here are a couple prime examples:
    • In "Mare Tranquillitatis," Buzz Aldrin spends a lot of time worrying about if Neil Armstrong will be able to say something appropriate for the moment.
    • Al Shepard in "For Miles and Miles" explaining NASA's bumping him and his crew from Apollo 13, along the lines of "Imagine if they put me in command on 13 and something went wrong."
    • A particularly heartbreaking case is noted about Apollo 1: Gus Grissom's Mercury flight had suffered a mishap where his hatch blew open early, resulting in the module being lost and Grissom nearly drowning. He was later cleared of responsibility and a more secure hatch was developed...which then trapped Grissom and the others inside the burning Apollo 1.
  • End of an Era: Borders on Tearjerker as the crew of Apollo 17 discuss their role, knowing they'd be the last and frustratingly, the only time scientists got to walk on the Moon.
  • The Engineer: Tom Kelly and his team at Grumman, and several supporting and minor characters at Mission Control.
  • Expy: "Emmett Seaborn" is quite obviously supposed to be Walter Cronkite, providing commentary and exposition in situations where using actual archival news footage wouldn't have been practical.
  • Fashion Show: "The Original Wives Club" introduces the Apollo astronauts' wives by having them participating in a charity fashion show.
  • Flawed Prototype:
    • In "Apollo 1," the "Block 1" design met more mission requirements than safety needs. When benign materials are soaked in a pure oxygen environment, the spacecraft interior became effectively Made of Explodium.
    • The Block 1 design's ghost still haunted Apollo 7 in "We Have Cleared the Tower" since the Block 1 seats they had to use would make for horrific emergency abort vibrations inside the spacecraft.
    • There's also a scene in "1968" where Frank Borman is complaining that the emergency egress procedure for the Command Module is too complicated and takes too long; he says that if something goes wrong, the astronauts have to get out right away and won't have time to look at a checklist. He doesn't specifically mention Apollo 1, but the implication is clear.
  • Flowery Insults: From "Galileo Was Right:"
    "You wouldn't know a regolithic basalt if it fell on your head!"
  • For Science!: The Apollo program starts to put more emphasis on scientific endeavor after a series of cutbacks when the political usefulness of the program has faded.
    • Dave Scott's hammer and feather experiment, which proves that objects of different size and weight will fall at the same rate in a vacuum, just like Galileo said they would.
  • Funny Foreigner: Farouk El-Baz, as noted above. Also German rocket scientist Guenter Wendt, who cracks up the documentary crew by describing how the astronauts call him the "Pad Führer" and once gave him a Colonel Klink helmet. He firmly believes that NASA employees "have to joke around some" in order to deal with their extremely stressful jobs.
  • Happily Married: Jim and Marilyn Lovell, among the very few couples lucky enough to remain so.
    • The Bormans. Susan had to seek treatment for depression and substance abuse due to the stress of knowing her husband was in constant danger, but their marriage stayed strong and Frank stood by her to support her in the way she supported him.
  • Hauled Before A Senate Subcommittee: A dramatization of the Real Life hearings into the Apollo 1 disaster is shown in eponymous episode.
  • Hard Work Montage: Grumman building the LM, to the tune of The Great Escape, as well as the summary of most of the Mercury and Gemini missions to only a selected few.
  • Heroic BSOD: The Apollo 1 episode has many, as the news of the tragedy spreads, and its eventual consequences become apparent.
    • Al Bean provides a humorous example when Pete Conrad wonders in and casually invites him along on Apollo 12. He's struck dumb and can't even answer.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Wally Schirra tells the documentary film crew that it was very irresponsible of Walt Cunningham to go water-skiing and get injured when they're so close to launch. In his own interview, Cunningham points out that Schirra was almost bumped from his Mercury mission for doing the exact same thing. Schirra tries to brush this off by calling what happened to him a "freak accident".
  • Interservice Rivalry: Jim Lovell accidentally inflates his life vest during Apollo 8. Frank Borman (an Air Force pilot) rolls his eyes and scoffs, "Navy man."
  • It Will Never Catch On: Before NASA can actually send anyone to the Moon, they have to decide which flight mode will be used. Engineer John Houbolt has developed a concept called Lunar Orbit Rendezvous, but his co-workers aren't interested and keep telling him this idea will never succeed. Of course, NASA eventually decides that LOR will be used after all.
  • Kicked Upstairs: "Apollo 1" has Joe Shea, director of the Apollo Space Program, being "promoted" to Washington to assist in making policy in the wake of the Apollo 1 fire, but it's really a move to keep him out of the way of the congressional investigation into the accident. Once he's in his new job he realizes he has no responsibilities there, and eventually moves on to the private sector.
  • Lower Deck Episode: "The Original Wives Club" focuses on the struggles of the astronauts' wives back home as they cope with publicity, stress, and tragedy.
  • Mood Whiplash: Tom Kelly invokes this on purpose. He and his fellow Grumman engineers are waiting to find out if they got the contract to build the Lunar Module. The phone rings and Kelly answers it, says a few words, hangs up, sighs, and tells his men they'd better go home and tell their families the bad news. Everyone looks shocked and disappointed. Then Kelly grins and says the bad news is that their families won't be seeing much of them for the next few years because Grumman got the contract.
    • He does the reverse later in the episode during a meeting to assess the readiness of the LM for the Apollo 8 flight (The LM stood no chance of being ready in time so Apollo 8 was reconfigured to be a CSM-only lunar orbit mission and the LM was bumped to Apollo 9). After starting the meeting with a joke about raiding the company's assets for money to use to flee to South America the various engineers start reporting in that they're just not ready and begin throwing in suggestions as to which country he ought to flee to.
      Tom Kelly: You know this is so bad I can't even joke about it.
    • Kelly has another when one of the LM's footpads snaps off during a simulated landing situation. One of his engineers goes through his calculations and finds he made an error, causing the leg assembly to be manufactured to less-than-necessary strength. The calculations will have to be redone, a new leg assembly made, and more tests conducted, pushing project completion back even further. After he reports the error to Kelly, he's told to 'go home'...and take a few days to rest.
    • The Apollo 12 episode is largely lighthearted and amusing (see Breather Episode above), but one scene is in very sharp contrast to the others: Alan Bean talks about the other astronauts selected with him over a montage of them smiling for official NASA portraits. When he gets to the last four men in the group, their images freeze and fade to gray as Bean explains that they all died in accidents and never got to fly in space.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Actually a significant part of events in "Galileo Was Right." NASA has to find a way to make the astronaut corps (made up almost entirely of fighter-jock test pilots) interested in geology.
  • Mundane Object Amazement: In "Galileo Was Right", there is an epic scene (with upswelling music and lots of drama and a sense of utter and complete triumph) about the astronauts finding a rock. But it was a rock that may have been four billion years old, in other words as old as the Moon itself. Finding such rocks was actually one of the primary goals of the mission, and certainly worthy of elation for the geologists on the ground.
  • Naked People Are Funny: When Pete Conrad and Alan Bean have returned from their moonwalks, Dick Gordon refuses to let them into the Command Module because their suits are covered with Moon dust and they will "mess up [his] nice clean spacecraft". Conrad and Bean obligingly take off their suits and strap themselves into their seats, completely naked except for their medical sensors. Conrad says that if something went wrong and someone found the astronauts floating around like this hundreds of years from now, they would probably be very confused. The crew laughs heartily at this idea.
  • New Meat:
    • Alan Bean in "That's All There Is." Apollo 12 was his very first space flight; he had been resigned to the thought of never being chosen for a mission at all.
    • There was some concern at NASA that the Apollo 14 crew was made up entirely of rookies. (Many didn't think that Shepard's previous 15 minute Mercury flight qualified him as an experienced commander.)
    • Neil Armstrong had only one flight before becoming commander of Apollo 11. What likely made him the prime choice was how he and crewmate David Scott (adviser to the series) handled the first in-orbit abort with cool demeanor and training that saved themselves and the space program's reputation.
      • Deke Slayton's autobiography makes it clear that Armstrong's selection as commander for the first landing came strictly from the rotation and it could have easily been Stafford's (the most experienced) or Conrad's (the next most experienced) crews that ended up as the first to land.
  • Nerves of Steel: A widespread commodity, in space and on the ground.
  • New Media Are Evil: "We Interrupt This Program" showcases the transition of serious, fact-based journalism towards sensationalism and showmanship.
  • Opening Narration: Tom Hanks opens each episode with some background or fact about the space program. Blythe Danner introduces the final episode (in which Hanks appears as an actor, instead).
    • Each narration also ends with a Title Drop, which gets increasingly hamfisted and Narmy as the series goes on, because it's the title of the series. A drop of the episode's title might have been a little better.
  • Prop Recycling / Recycled Set: A lot of sets and props from Apollo 13 were reused to make this miniseries. Justified as the Apollo missions were obviously all going to use largely the same hardware and facilities. The biggest aversions were the first episode (which covered Mercury and Gemini), and the last three episodes (which covered the J-series missions which used an upgraded lunar module and introduced the lunar rover).
  • Percussive Maintenance:
    • Alan Bean tries fixing a broken camera by whacking it with a hammer. It works, barely, for about thirty seconds.
    • In "For Miles and Miles," during the pre-landing check of the Lunar Module, Alan Shepard finds that the "Landing Abort" circuit has been activated, without the button being pressed. Tapping on the console by the button deactivates it again. They did not think that this fixed the problem, and put off the landing until they found a real fix for the problem.
  • Perspective Flip: Done in a deliberate meta-sense; since the movie Apollo 13 had already chronicled the outer space odyssey from NASA's POV, the TV series set the focus on the media coverage and its internal clash over sensationalism.
  • Precision F-Strike: Fictional newscaster Emmett Seaborne fires one off after Apollo 12's color broadcast fails after Alan Bean fried the camera by accidentally pointing it at the Sun.
    "What the fuck happened up there?"
  • The Quiet One: Neil Armstrong, who also borders on The Stoic; to an outsider, he acts like going to the Moon is no more remarkable than driving a carnote . In one scene, he is forced to eject from a lunar landing training vehicle, coming within a second of death; upon hitting the ground, he gets up and walks away without a word, only showing mild discomfort because he bit his tonguenote .
  • Real Person Cameo: The real Gunther Wendt, long-time pad leader and safety advocate for most of the flights during the race, appears as an anonymous flight controller in the background of a scene in "We Have Cleared the Tower," reviewing a flight plan with Deke Slayton, while his cinematic counterpart is busy closing out the spacecraft in preparation for launch. Wendt was also one of the series's advisors.
  • Red Scare: The first episode shows how the alarming prospect of a "Red Moon" kickstarts the American space program.
    Speaker: Man has traversed the reaches of outer space, and that man is a Communist.
  • Rousing Speech: JFK's visionary speech about the goal of putting a man on the Moon before the end of the decade is met with enthusiasm by attendees of his speech at Rice University and is also featured during the initial credits.
    • The President's clever speech is underappreciated because excerpts often don't include the very humorous question that the President said, before his words as seen in the film (shown in full here):
    JFK: "But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?" (laughter and applause)
    "We choose to go to the Moon... we choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."
  • Running Gag: Alan Bean having no luck with cameras, which actually happened.note 
  • Second Place Is for Losers: Causes some anger in Buzz Aldrin, who is fully aware that whoever gets out of the LM first will go down in history. Neil Armstrong doesn't appear to care one way or the other and just follows Deke Slayton's orders.
    • Somewhat averted by Alan Bean. He acknowledges that many people consider Apollo 12 to be "history's ultimate anticlimax," but this doesn't seem to bother him personally. He considers himself lucky to be chosen for any landing and doesn't care how many others have flown to the Moon before him.
  • Shout-Out/Homage:
    • A recursive shoutout in the first episode; the video of Woody Woodpecker doing exposition in comedic and layman's terms is a homage to a segment of Destination Moon.
    • Grumman builds the LM in sync with the music of The Great Escape, Tom Kelly jokes about digging a tunnel, likes to bounce balls against a wall and gets compared to Steve McQueen by a colleague.
    • The last episode reenacts the shooting of A Trip to the Moon.
  • Shown Their Work: Throughout the entire series, the detail of the missions are only weakened a little by the sometimes-distracting CG work for some of the flying spacecraft. The moonwalks, in contrast, were so amazingly lifelikenote  to the video taken over the years. The telltale sign that it's a movie set, conspiracy fans, is the speed in which the dust flies and returns to the ground (Earth gravity), which is averted in the official films.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Pete Conrad. When a elementary-school tour group comes in to watch the astronauts at work, their teacher quickly has to hurry them away and grabs one kid who tries staying behind, in awe of the language.
  • Space Is Noisy: Every external shot of a spacecraft is accompanied by a wind noise. Doubles as Quieter Than Silence.
  • Space Race: While Wernher Von Braun was only briefly portrayed as an integral part of the race to the moon in "Spider", engineer and pad leader Guenther Wendt (now more accurately portrayed in role and appearance than in Apollo 13) shows how German ingenuity and meticulous procedures kept the program on-track, as seen in "Tower."
  • Spiritual Successor: To Apollo 13. In fact, many cast members from the film returned, often in different roles, to star in one or more episodes.
  • Stop Trick: In "Le Voyage Dans La Lune," George Méliès is shown using this trick in his 1902 film.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: The "Flying Bedstead," a LM training vehicle that was basically a jet engine on a metal frame with a pilot's seat. The fireball it produces on crashing is massive—the footage of the actual crash is even more disturbing, since it's hard to see Armstrong eject unless you know when and where to look.
  • Stunned Silence: Pete Conrad shows up unexpectedly in Alan Bean's office and casually asks if he'd like to join the Apollo 12 crew and fly to the Moon. Bean's reaction is pure stunned amazement.
  • The Other Darrin: Peter Scolari played Pete Conrad early in the series. In the actual Apollo 12 episode, they realized Scolari was too tall,note  so they got Paul McCrane.
  • Think Nothing of It: Tom Kelly invites engineer John Houbolt to Florida for the arrival of the just-completed Apollo 11 Lunar Module (a.k.a. the Eagle). He says that if it hadn't been for Houbolt developing the concept of Lunar Orbit Rendezvous, there might not have been anyone there today. Houbolt just shrugs and says that someone else would have thought of it if he hadn't.
  • To Absent Friends: C.C. Williams was assigned to the Apollo 12 crew, but he died in a plane crash before the mission. Pete Conrad and Alan Bean leave his gold pilots' wings on the lunar surface and Conrad quietly says, "We made it, C.C."
  • True Companions: What made the Apollo 12 crew stand out from the rest was that Pete Conrad made sure that they were very good friends and spent all their time together. Alfred Worden, Apollo 15's CMP, said in an interview that if you saw one member of Apollo 12, the others were never too far away.
    • It's worth noting that the Apollo 12 crew were friends well before any of them joined NASA. They were all stationed at the Pax River Test Pilot School at the same time, and Conrad and Gordon served on the same ship for a while.
    • In contrast, Worden said that Dave Scott, Apollo 15's commander, was much more business-like and that the Apollo 15 crew didn't socialize when they weren't prepping for the mission.
  • Trying Not to Cry: Wally Schirra calls his wife and son the night before the Apollo 7 launch. He ends the call by saying "I love you too" to his wife. Then he hangs up, leans against the wall, and chokes back tears.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: There are several instances of space-sickness.
    • There's also at least one scene where Alan Shepard gets dizzy and throws up while standing on solid ground. It turns out he has an inner-ear disorder.
  • The World Is Just Awesome: The crew of Apollo 8 is absolutely awestruck when they round the moon and see Earthrise.
    • Rusty Schweickart also has one of these moments during his Apollo 9 spacewalk. Dave Scott's camera malfunctions and he has to take it back inside the command module and fix it. This leaves Schweickart with nothing to do for a few minutes except look at the Earth and marvel at how amazing it is, while becoming the first man to conduct a spacewalk with a fully autonomous life support system.
    • A closer-to-Earth example is the sweeping shot of the Orocopia Mountains when Lee Silver takes the astronauts there on a field trip.