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"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 the episodes, save the finale). 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? starts with the news of the Soviets putting the first man into space, leading Kennedy to challenge NASA (and the US government broadly) to commit to the goal of putting a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s. Covers broadly the Mercury and Gemini missions that served as preparation for the Apollo missions. This episode only glosses over Mercury, since The Right Stuff covered those missions extensively.
  • Part 2: Apollo One depicts the tragic Apollo 1 fire, and the investigation that followed it, that nearly ended the project altogether.
  • Part 3: We Have Cleared the Tower depicts the flight of Apollo 7, the first crewed Apollo mission, 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, leading to man's first steps on the Moon.
  • Part 7: That's All There Is. The flight of Apollo 12, focusing on the camaraderie of its crew.
  • Part 8: We Interrupt This Program. The Apollo 13 accident. Since Tom Hanks had already appeared in a film about the astronauts' and ground crew side of the 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 Apollo 16 mission, from the perspective of the lives of some of the astronauts' wives, and the troubles they have.
  • 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, the final Apollo mission. Some of the actors also portray their characters, 30 years after the Apollo flights, reflecting back on the program and what it accomplished. (Since Hanks has a prominent role in this episode, he does not introduce it - Blythe Danner fills in.)

In 2019, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the series received a remaster with updated special effects.

This series provides examples of

  • Ace Pilot: The astronauts, naturally. Wally Schirra stands out among them as The Ace.
  • All There in the Manual: Al Bean explains how he smuggled a self-timer onto the Apollo 12 mission so he could take pictures with both astronauts in them. However, no explanation is offered for why he didn't simply ask to take the self-timer along. In reality Al wanted to screw with the photo analysts; since he smuggled it aboard it didn't appear in the list of on-board equipment, so the analysts would have no idea how they managed to take the pictures.
  • 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 years before those missions.
  • And Mission Control Rejoiced: A not-infrequent occurrence, naturally. Some notable instances include the successful splashdown of Freedom 7, Apollo 8 emerging from radio blackout on their first lunar orbit, and the landing of Apollo 11. The geologists working with Apollo 15 also cheer a bit when the "Genesis Rock" is found.
  • Armor-Piercing Question:
    • At a bar after the Apollo 1 fire, Deke Slayton says he's worried about how Joe Shea is handling it. Frank Borman's reply is to ask how Deke is handling it.
      Deke: [wryly] I'm drunk.
    • As Apollo 13 nears re-entry, various officials argue about which politician will make the opening statement of the post-mission press conference. PR rep Hal Deacon shuts them all down by asking who'll go first if the crew don't survive the landing.
  • Artistic License – History: Lee Silver and Farouk El-Baz to NASA actually trained the Apollo 13 crew, but they obviously had no chance to put their geology skills to use, and geology was not included in Apollo 14's mission due to Shepard's disinterest. For the series, Jack Schmitt is shown contacting Silver specifically to prepare 15's crew.
  • 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!
  • Benevolent Boss:
    • When a Grumman engineer discovers he made a miscalculation that requires rebuilding the entire leg assembly of the LM, Tom Kelly doesn't fire him. He'd rather his people not be afraid of reporting errors when it comes to building a spacecraft.
    • Deke Slayton also qualifies, although he overlaps with A Father to His Men.
  • 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. He became the inspiration for Jeb Kerman.
    • 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: "That's All There Is," about Apollo 12, lacks the drama of either the previous episode ("Mare Tranquilitatis" about Apollo 11) or the following episode. ("We Interrupt This Program..." about Apollo 13) It helps that the flight 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 
  • The Cameo: One of the flight controllers in Episode 3 was played by Guenter Wendt, who was the pad leader for virtually every single capsule-era crewed mission launch.note 
  • Career-Ending Injury: Alan Shepard is grounded when he starts suffering from severe attacks of vertigo, later diagnosed as being caused by Ménière's disease. Eventually subverted, as he's cured after undergoing a radical new surgical procedure and eventually becomes the commander of Apollo 14.
  • Character Narrator:
    • Since "Spider" focuses on the Grumman engineers who develop the lunar module, Tom Kelly, one of the engineers, provides the episode's narration.
    • "That's All There Is" is narrated by Al Bean, given the episode's focus on the Apollo 12 mission.
  • Chekhov's Lecture: "Galileo Was Right" invents a whole new science, Lunar field geology. The drill is first learned on Earth.
  • Companion Cube: Tom Kelly, having invested half a decade of his life into creating the LM, watches it being shipped off with the air of a father watching his child leave for college. The astronauts even hang back to let him have some privacy in the moment.
  • 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.note 
    • 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. This was Truth in Television. Several of the Apollo astronauts have spoken very highly of Silver and his teaching methods.
  • Creator Cameo: In "Can We Do This?", the Meet the Press host is portrayed by Andrew Chaikin, who also wrote A Man on the Moon.
  • 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.
  • Death Seeker: Joe Shea worries his colleagues with his repeated statement that he wished he had been in the Apollo 1 capsule for the plugs-out test (a possibility they had discussed beforehand) prompting them to send him to a psychiatrist. He finally explains at the end that he doesn't wish he was dead, but that if he had been there he would have been under the seats and might have had a chance to put out the fire when it started. Stormy advises him that it's not good to dwell on what-ifs that way.
  • 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.
  • Digital Destruction: The 2019 remaster features vastly improved digital special effects. However, the remaster's attempt to correct the original's dim and muted look resulted in harsh lighting effects. Additionally, the remaster chopped the top and bottom off the image to fit a 16:9 aspect ratio rather than preserving the original 4:3 ratio.
  • Disappeared Dad: For the astronauts, preparing for space flight meant they missed huge chunks of their families lives, as exemplified when Jim Lovell discovers that all his children had their tonsils removed years after the fact.
  • 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:
    • "Can We Do This?" has a sad scene where Elliot See visits a school class who had no idea who he was in comparison to the Mercury astronauts. Their teacher says not to worry, as they'll all be glued to the screen when he makes his own spaceflight. See would be tragically killed in an accident prior to his intended command of Gemini 9.
    • 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 fault and a more secure hatch was developed... which then trapped Grissom and the others inside the burning Apollo 1. The engineer responsible said that if he hadn't proved Grissom right, the crew of Apollo 1 might be alive and well—and that he never did like irony much.
    • 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.
    • The scene in "That's All There Is" where the flight controllers go over the fact that the lightning strike on Apollo 12 may have disabled their parachutes comes off as this, since their successful splashdown took place in an earlier scene. Also, Alan Bean mentioning Dick Gordon looking forward to commanding Apollo 18, which would never happen.
    • 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." 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.)
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: "For Miles and Miles and Miles" follows Alan Shepard, who was grounded after his one brief space flight due to Ménière's disease. It's implied that much of his irascible behavior while Chief of the Astronaut Office is because he's forced to see others achieve his dreams while he sits on the sidelines. However, a new surgical treatment is successful so he gets put back into the flight rotation — which makes him friendlier to other astronauts — and he trains hard for a chance to walk on the Moon.
  • 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 an Expy of ABC News science reporter Jules Bergman, providing commentary and exposition in situations where using actual archival news footage wouldn't have been practical.
  • Famous for Being First: In the episode dealing with Apollo 11, Buzz Aldrin is shown as being very concerned with who will actually be the first to exit the LEM and stand on the surface of the moon. Deke Slayton eventually settles the matter by deciding on Neil Armstrong, he's the commander and based on where they'll be seated in the LEM, it makes the most sense for him to get out first.
  • 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, and the inward-opening hatch was sealed shut by the immense air pressure generated by the fire.
    • 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 vesicular 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.
  • Framing Device:
    • "We Have Cleared the Tower" contextualizes the forthcoming Apollo 7 launch through the eyes of a fictional documentary crew.
    • "Mare Tranquilitatus" introduces the episode with Emmet Seaborn interviewing the Apollo 11 crew and flashing back to the topics he questions them about (eg the lunar simulators, Collins being alone in the command module).
    • "Le Voyage Dans La Lune" is another faux-documentary, this one taking place decades later with flashbacks to the mission. It also includes a black-and-white interview with Georges Méliès' assistant (played by Hanks, as mentioned above).
  • Freudian Trio: The Apollo 11 crew.
    • Armstrong (cool, rational and unflappable) is the Superego.
    • Aldrin (devoutly Christian, emotional, jealous of the glory of being the first guy on the moon) is the Id.
    • Collins (always friendly, encouraging and uncomplaining) is the Ego.
  • Gallows Humor: Tom Kelly certainly tries once it becomes apparent the Lunar module is behind schedule and he'll likely face the wrath of NASA and his bosses for the delays, joking his team had better give him some good news or he'll taking money from the safe and fleeing to South America. Unfortunately, they can't and his humour fades. When his Number Two jokingly suggests Bolivia as an escape destination, a dejected Kelly replies things are so screwed up for them he can't even laugh about it.
  • Happily Ever Before: "We Have Cleared the Tower" ends with the successful launch of Apollo 7, but doesn't depict the actual mission. Schirra's disagreements over equipment issues and the flight plan beforehand are shown, as are some of the interpersonal issues like Eisele's extramarital affair. What's left out is that Schirra developed a head cold while in orbit and his sour mood affected the other two to such an extent that after numerous arguments with Mission Control Chris Kraft vowed that none of them would ever go into space again. (Schirra had already planned to retire, but for Cunningham and Eisele, this would be their first and last flight.)
  • 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.
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: "For Miles and Miles" uses a variant. Many of its musical cues use a high-pitched ringing noise, mimicking the effects of Shepard's inner-ear condition.
  • Heroic BSoD: The Apollo 1 episode has many, as the news of the tragedy spreads, and its eventual consequences become apparent.
  • 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".
  • Immoral Journalist: At worst, Brett Hutchens is this, though he may simply be a Glory Hound. The series shows him lying and maneuvering to get access to stories in ways that are possibly invasions of privacy.
  • Interservice Rivalry: Jim Lovell accidentally inflates his life vest during Apollo 8. Frank Borman (an Air Force pilot and West Point graduate) rolls his eyes and scoffs, "Navy man." note 
  • It's Personal: Mondale gripes that the NASA investigation into the Apollo 1 fire will be a whitewash. Cut to the NASA board room, where the head of the team knows full well that Congress thinks this, but that they're not working for NASA right now—they're working for Gus, Ed, and Roger.
  • 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.note  Once he's in his new job, he realizes he has no responsibilities there and eventually moves on to the private sector.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • In We Have Cleared the Tower Wally's retort of "you'd be surprised how quickly time goes up there" when Deke tries to defend the amount of experiments in Apollo 7 comes across as this given that Deke was grounded before he could go into space himself and can't directly relate. Really hits home with Deke's hurt and furious face just afterwards.
    • Reporter Brett Hutchings ambushing Ma and Pa Swigert with questions when they're just off the plane in the middle of what for them is basically a family emergency.
  • Large Ham: Tom Hanks playing Georges Méliès' Number Two is bombastic and energetic, striding around the set to loudly repeat and amplify whatever proclamation the boss has just given (even if it contradicts what he'd said seconds before). It is a stark contrast with the "present-day" interview shows him subdued and melancholy as he recounts how Edison stole Méliès' achievement and fortune.
  • Lower-Deck Episode:
    • "We Interrupt This Program" focuses on the reaction of the media networks and the broader world to the Apollo 13 incident, since the astronauts and Mission Control already had their day in the limelight.
    • "The Original Wives Club" focuses on the struggles of the astronauts' wives back home as they cope with publicity, stress, and tragedy.
  • Manly Tears: After the Apollo 1 fire Harrison Storms, head of the team at North American Aviation that built the Command Module, is seen crying uncontrollably.
  • Measuring the Marigolds: Played with in the final episode. Gene Cernan relates how he kept marveling at the Earth in the black lunar sky while Jack Schmitt wouldn't look up from his surface sampling. But Schmitt, being a professional geologist, says that the things he was looking at on the ground were just as marvelous because he could perceive the whole history of the moon in them.
    Schmitt: You've seen one Earth, you've seen them all.
  • 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 before coming back to work.
    • 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.
    • Alan Shepard is visiting an oil field that he is thinking of investing in when he has his first vertigo and nausea attack that will ground him for years. It's treated very seriously, until one of the workers takes the opportunity to get the pictures with Shepard that he'd been wanting to take, smiling while Shepard is puking his guts out.
  • Mr. Smith: "Can We Do This?" features a scene in which a series of newly recruited astronauts check into a hotel under an obvious pseudonym - the same obvious pseudonym. Spoofed moments later when, after a round of introductionsnote  the last person to go uses the alias and quips, "What good are code names if we don't get to use them?" Cue a second round of introductions, with everyone introducing themselves as "Max Peck".
  • 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.
  • Musical Spoiler: The opening of "Apollo 1" is the crew and Mission Control engaged in the mundane and frustrating routine of the plugs-out test, but the score over the scene is mournful and poignant, since the audience will know that the deadly cockpit fire is imminent.
  • 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.
  • Newcomer Saves the Day: When Apollo 12 is hit by lightning, producing glitches everywhere, EECOM John Aaron proposes "try SCE to aux," a procedure unknown by most, including Flight Director Gerald Griffin and Commander Pete Conrad. Rookie Lunar Module Pilot Alan Bean does, and this saves the mission.
  • 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. EECOM John Aaron earned the nickname "Steely-Eyed Missile Man" for his ability to coolly and quickly come up with solutions to pressing problems (like when Apollo 12 was struck by lightning).
  • New Media Are Evil: "We Interrupt This Program" showcases the transition of serious, fact-based journalism towards sensationalism and showmanship.
  • Oh, Crap!: Susan Borman takes a magazine quiz about drinking habits to pass the time in a hair salon and realizes she is hitting every answer that indicates she's an alcoholic.
  • One-Steve Limit:
    • Averted with Tom Kelly's staff in "Spider". During a meeting, he addresses two of the engineers as "John" and "the other John."
    • In "The Original Wives Club", there are two "Pat"s (White and McDivitt) and two "Marilyn"s (See and Lovell). The former of each pair is widowed in the episode.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    Emmett Seaborn: 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.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Stormy is removed from North American's aerospace division and moved to another, less prominent one after the failure of Apollo I and the CEO of the company deciding to take all the blame.
  • Red Scare: The first episode shows how the alarming prospect of a "Red Moon" kickstarts the American space program.
    Emmett Seaborn: Man has traversed the reaches of outer space, and that man is a Communist.
  • Rousing Speech: Several by JFK's about the goal of putting a man on the Moon before the end of the decade. The first one before Congress is met with a mix of enthusiasm and burden by those involved in the task ahead. His 1962 speech at Rice University is met with enthusiasm by attendees and marks the tone of the series; "We choose to go the moon" is featured during the initial credits and an excerpt of the speech is chosen to close the series.
    JFK: William Bradford, speaking in 1630 of the founding of the Plymouth Bay Colony, said that all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage. If this capsule history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not. We mean to be a part of it—we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond. Our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men. There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind. 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, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.
  • Running Gag: Alan Bean and his trouble with cameras. First, he accidentally breaks the TV camera by pointing it at the sun. Then a plan to take a photo of both him and Pete Conrad on the Moon using an automatic timer (which would have befuddled the people back home, if both the astronauts are in the shot who took the photo?) is aborted when he loses the timer. When they do find the timer towards the end of the second moonwalk he's too exhausted to think to actually use it and just tosses it away. Finally, a camera he hadn't properly secured bangs into his head and briefly knocks him out upon splashdown. He takes up drawing and painting shortly after.
  • The Scapegoat: Lee Atwood allows North American to take the majority of the blame for the Apollo 1 fire in order to save NASA, as it's too late for them to change contractors. He also fires Stormy from the Space and Information Systems Division.note 
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Mike Collins immediately makes himself scarce when Aldrin and Armstrong begin to argue about a simulation they'd failed earlier in the episode.
  • 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. Ultimately Aldrin decides that whoever steps onto the planet first, he and Armstrong landed at the same time.
    • 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.
    • In "That's All There Is," Al Bean is shown doodling whenever he's got paper handy. The real Al Bean is a skilled artist and has done numerous paintings of the Apollo missions, often using moon dust and bootprints on the canvas.
  • 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 lunar dust flies and returns to the ground (Earth gravity), which is averted in the official films.
  • Single Tear: Martha Chaffee sheds one as she sits silently during a memorial gathering at her house after the Apollo 1 fire. The shot is the one used in the opening titles.
  • 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.
  • 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. It also fits in well with The Right Stuff, taking care to not duplicate material from that movie.
  • The Stoic: Neil Armstrong, who never raises his voice even when annoyed, and who never loses his cool. The Flying Bedstead incident noted above is the first sign of it, but later, when he decides that the Eagle's designated landing ground is too rocky and takes over manual control so as to land somewhere safer, the only sign that he knows he's dicing with low fuel levels and is an involuntary muscle-twitch away from crashing the Eagle into the Moon's surface is an increasingly tense frown. Armstrong's utter cool seems to be what finally earns him the respect and loyalty of Aldrin.
  • 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 stuck in the middle. 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:
    • When Senator Mondale abruptly asks Frank Borman if Gus Grissom really hung a lemon on the Apollo 1 CM simulator, Borman stops dead in his testimony. It takes him a moment to answer with "You had to know Gus."
    • 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.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Admittedly the show takes pains to be as realistic as possible, but in We Interrupt This Program Emmett Seaborn (created especially for the show) is gruff and dismissive of his New Media bosses as he chases the Apollo 13 story. At the end they punish him by giving his interview with Gene Kranz to scummy new journalist Hutchings without telling him. How they do it is incredibly nasty, but antagonizing your bosses needlessly, even if you're a respected veteran, is very unlikely to end well in just about any profession.
  • Techno Babble: What the conversation between the computer engineers in We Have Cleared the Tower sounds like to the uninitiated, but it's all legit.
  • 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 aviator's wings on the lunar surface and Conrad quietly says, "We made it, C.C."
  • Training Montage: "Galileo Was Right" has a sequence of Dave Scott and James Irwin conducting site surveys over the walkie-talkie during their tutelage with Professor Silver, with one trying to describe key features and the other attempting to make an effective sketch based on that. Their first attempts are awkward and ineffective, but by the end they're both confidently identifying and noting the geologically-significant and informative areas of a new survey site.
  • Trip to the Moon Plot: The rare Based on a True Story variant. The series retells how humanity actually conquered the Moon.
  • 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, most notably when Frank Borman experienced space-sickness during Apollo 8. In real-life, Borman also experienced diarrhea and the crew failed to clean it all up so they had to spend the duration of the mission dealing with flecks of vomit and fecal matter floating around the cabin.
    • 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.
  • We Meet Again: In the wake of the Apollo 1 disaster, NASA's Joe Shea and North American's Harrison "Stormy" Storms spend most of the episode blaming each other. At the end of the episode, after each has been either fired or kicked upstairs by their respective organizations, they have a chance meeting in Washington and agree the tragedy was much bigger than either of them.
  • 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.
    • During the contentious discussion of Apollo 15's landing site, mission commander Dave Scott makes the final argument for Hadley Rille because there is value in the "exploration of beautiful places."
    • In "Le Voyage Dans La Lune", Gene Cernan talks about how he couldn't stop looking up to marvel at the Earth and urges Harrison Schmitt to do the same. Schmitt, however, focuses on the Moon because he's a geologist and getting to see lunar rocks up close is more fascinating to him.
  • Xanatos Gambit: When Armstrong and Aldrin are in the simulator and the training team decides to make the simulator start losing height. Aldrin points out to Armstrong that they're losing height, but Armstrong doesn't report it to Houston. Finally they crash into the "moon", breaking the simulator. Later that night, Aldrin is pissed that it will go down in the log as a crew failure, until Armstrong explains to him that he wanted to see what would happen if he didn't report on something he knew mission control had to be aware of: would they tell him anyway? If they had told him he could have responded, but since they didn't, they now know that they ought to.
    Armstrong: Buzz, sims are for learning. We had four successful aborts before that one. I wanted to see what would happen if we waited for Houston. If it was anyone's failure, it was theirs, not ours. If you're worried we'll catch hell for it, I'll tell everyone the score, but there's no point in rubbing Gene's nose in it. He knows what happened.
  • Yes-Man: Méliès' bombastic, enthusiastic assistant starts shouting that the effects man is using too much powder. Méliès appears and says it's just the right amount, and his assistant immediately yells "Yes, that's perfect!"
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Deke Slayton's reaction to Dave Scott's enthusiastic insistence on trading off precious LM landing fuel for a telescopic camera lens.
    Scott: A lens, and a hammer! [big grin]