All Systems Are Go for NASA Doc Mission Control

Showtime at the Apollo

Humans are going to the moon again, is what we've been hearing lately. All loaded up with the latest whiz-bang technology, our species is planning to once again set boots (and maybe actual colonies) on that big ol' natural satellite.

As difficult as the task will prove, don't doubt this for a minute: Getting there will be a cakewalk compared to last time.

In the middle of the 20th century, spurred by the Soviet/American competition of the Cold War, using bulky computers less smart than your phone's stupidest app, the United States' National Aeronautics & Space Administration launched their Apollo project and did what was necessary until, holy shit – one giant leap for mankind, right, Mr. Armstrong?

You know who was responsible for that, for what came before, and for the brief expeditions that followed? The group of men (and it was, at the time, all men) who called the shots behind the public-riveting triumphs and tragedies, who created and ran the intricate plans that guided crews beyond orbit and onto the lunar surface and back again?

David Fairhead knows who was responsible for that. They're the subject of his Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo, a new doc that brings the complex endeavor to life onscreen – from the POV of that less publicly celebrated team. And we wondered if there was a sort of natural affinity between Fairhead, in his filmic career so far, and those tech-savvy NASA champions?

"That question has more resonance than you might know," says Fairhead. "Because for 30 years I've been a film editor, cutting away in darkrooms, staring at flickering screens – much like the men in Mission Control. Editors could be seen as the 'unsung heroes' of filmmaking. We shape the story and set the pace in films – particularly in documentaries. With this, my first film as director, my reaction wasn't one of affinity with the controllers, but more an excitement at being able to tell their story through talking to them firsthand and getting to know them a little as people – something that, as an editor, I've never had the opportunity to do."

For 30 years Fairhead's been a film editor, yes. He's cut In the Shadow of the Moon, Neil Armstrong: First Man on the Moon, and The Last Man on the Moon, to name a few. And you watch Mission Control and note its compelling composition, the perfectly paced way all its elements – the interviews with those still-impassioned engineers, the period news coverage, the stunning CGI animations, the tight segues and vivid establishing shots – you watch how precisely that's constructed and you think, If this is what comes of such work, then maybe every director in the world should do 30 years as an editor and save us from the onslaught of cinematic crap.

Still, though: "The decision to make this film wasn't mine," says Fairhead. "A key voice in the process was the author Rick Houston, who wrote the book Go, Flight!: The Unsung Heroes of Mission Control, and helped us develop the project. But when I was offered the chance to direct the film, of course I seized the opportunity."

And we humbly suggest, citizen of Earth, that you seize the opportunity to experience Fairhead's excellent documentary.

Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo


Tuesday, March 14, 6:30pm, Vimeo Theatre
Saturday, March 18, 2:30pm, Zach Theatre

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

Unleashing the <i>Hounds of Love</i>
Unleashing the Hounds of Love
Director Ben Young on his serial-killer couple drama

Richard Whittaker, May 12, 2017

Ben Wheatley  Catches <i>Free Fire</i>
Ben Wheatley Catches Free Fire
Director on making his U.S. action debut

Richard Whittaker, April 21, 2017

More by Wayne Alan Brenner
Visual Art Review: Stuffed Animal Rescue Foundation’s “The Still Life”
Visual Art Review: Stuffed Animal Rescue Foundation’s “The Still Life”
This charming exhibit rehabilitates neglected stuffies, then puts them to work creating art

March 22, 2024

Spider Sculptures, Gore Feasts, and More Arts Events
Spider Sculptures, Gore Feasts, and More Arts Events
Feed your art habit with these recommended events for the week

March 22, 2024


Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo, SXSW 2017, SXSW Film 2017, David Fairhead, NASA

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle