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From Earth To The Moon
Tom Hank's Mini-series on NASA'a Apollo Program.

4/20/98 Update
4/27/98 Update
5/4/98 Update

Like many, I have always been fascinated with space. So, when I saw that HBO would be running a mini-series on the Apollo space progam during the months of April and May--produced by none other than Apollo 13 star Tom Hank--I was understandably fascinated. Unfortuantely, I don't have cable. I could but I'm just one of those odd people who isn't willing to spend $30 a month to find out there's nothing worth watching on television! (Most of the time. From the looks of it, this particular series would be worth watching!)

Anyways, I had resigned myself to missing the series (and possibly renting it later when I arrived in video tape form) when I received a cordial message from Robert Pearlman of the National Space Society. The National Space Soceity, in cooperation with HBO, recently created the Official Viewer's Guide to "From The Earth To The Moon" (E2M) [].

In his note, Robert expressed an interest in creating a Nitpicker's Guide for the series as well! He has access to astronauts, NASA techs, and historians but was also interested in hearing from the proud members of the Nitpickers Guild as to your thoughts on the HBO mini series. I told him I would be happy to start a Brash Reflection file and then forward whatever comes in to him. He'll double-check any nits and eventually we'll be putting together an online version and possibly--although nothing, nothing, nothing has been set yet--putting together something in hardcopy LATER (much later, because my schedule is crazy right now).

Of course, I will have little add to the actual nits themselves since I don't get cable but I left it in your capable hands fellow nitpickers.

Reflections from the Guild

Ryan Whitney of Evanston, IL: Recently, I watched "The Right Stuff" (1983), and "From The Earth To The Moon, Parts 1 & 2". In FTETTM part 2, astronaut Gus Grissom dies in a fire inside the Apollo 1 capsule during a pre-launch test. Gus Grissom was one of the original seven Mercury astronauts. Toward the end of Grissom's Mercury mission, when Grissom and his capsule awaited recovery in the sea, the capsule blew its hatch before the capsule could be lifted out of the water by a helicopter tow cable. This caused the capsule to fill with water and sink. Gus was suspected to have been responsible for the hatch prematurely blowing.

Late in part 2, a NASA engineer says that it is his fault that Grissom and the other two astronauts died in the Apollo 1 fire. The NASA engineer says that he discovered that Grissom was telling the truth that the explosive hatch on his capsule could blow for no reason. For that reason, there was no explosive hatch on Apollo 1. Had there been an explosive hatch on Apollo 1, Grissom and the two other astronauts could have escaped the capsule alive.

FTETTM paints a different picture of Grissom's Mercury capsule mishap than "The Right Stuff". According to "The Right Stuff", Grissom decided to bring some dimes, miniature capsules, and other items with him on his Mercury mission, presumably to give them collectible value as things that have been in space. When Grissom's capsule splashes down into the sea, Grissom appears to be very nervous and uncomfortable (who could blame him). He has trouble getting his helmet off, and is on the border of panic. The helicopter pilots are trying to tell Grissom via radio that he should open the hatch after the capsule has been lifted out of the water. Grissom appears not to receive the message. He clearly wants out of the capsule ASAP. When the recovery helicopter arrives, we see an exterior shot of the capsule as the hatch blows. Grissom jumps into the water and shouts to be rescued. The capsule fills with water and sinks because it is too heavy for the helicopter to lift. Subsequently, on an aircraft carrier, Grissom is seen picking up the items (which he snuck into the capsule) that have fallen out of his spacesuit. Grissom maintains that the hatch just blew. However, NASA thinks that a loose item may have hit the hatch button, causing the hatch to blow. NASA also says that it subjected the capsule to all kinds of stress tests, and the capsule never "just blew".

It seems that "The Right Stuff" implies that Grissom might have blown the hatch in a panic, or a loose item may have caused the hatch to blow accidentally. In that case, Grissom may have been lying to cover his behind. However, FTETTM implies that Grissom was at least truthful that the hatch could blow accidentally. Whether Grissom's hatch did blow accidentally would still be unresolved, since Grissom's hatch probably sunk with his capsule. FTETTM doesn't speculate that Grissom may have been responsible his hatch blowing prematurely on his Mercury mission.

Also, concerning the fire in the Apollo 1 capsule:

In the beginning of "Apollo 13" (1995), the Apollo 1 fire is shown to have started when one of the astronauts flipped a switch or pressed a button at chest level, and a spark erupted. However in FTETTM, the fire is shown to have started near the foot of one of the astronauts, when a wire behind a panel sparked.

John Latchem: "From the Earth to the Moon" has aired two episodes so far, and if they are any indication this will be a great series. I haven't seen anything that is blatantly wrong. There are artistically motivated liberties taken with history. The news reporter, Emmett Seaborn, is fictional, as will be some of the upcoming characters including some documentary filmmakers and such. The overall story from what I can tell won't be touched.

I think Tom Hanks made the right decision to make this mini-series how he did. It seems to me it will be a companion to, not a retread of, events covered in depth in the films "Apollo 13" and even "The Right Stuff." There will be an episode on Apollo 13 for the miniseries, as I mentioned in my previous email about counterprogramming (ABC is showing "Apollo 13" the same night), and it will focus more on what was going on on Earth at that time.

Also the first episode skips over the selection of the Mercury 7 and Glenn's flight, which in many ways is more significant than Shepard's. But "The Right Stuff" covered it, and covered it well. Why do it again? In fact the title "The New Nine" seems to indicate this is intended as a companion to "The Right Stuff." New to what?

I would however have liked to see the first Rendevous, between Geminis 6 and 7. This could have been fun, with a chase motif incorporated. Gemini 6 takes off, gets the okay to rendevous, and we hear some pulse pounding, exciting music, as the two capsules engage in an operation to find each other, almost like a game of tag, although still an important experiment. Could have been pretty good.

There are some interesting casting decisions, though. Obviously Hanks doesn't have the budget to get some of the bigger stars to reprise rolls from Apollo 13. Like Ed Harris to play Gene Kranz. But why doesn't Hanks, as Exec Producer, play Jim Lovell again? Instead Tim Daly handles the role, and Hanks serves as narrator, choosing to play a filmmaker in the last episode. Also, David Andrews, who played Pete Conrad in Apollo 13, plays Frank Borman here. Peter Scolari plays Pete Conrad on HBO.

The first two episodes are great. Episode one has some good nostalgia, such as some of the historic flights. The Max Peck scene is great. Jim Lovell wrote about it in his book, although his account has him going to his room, talking with another Max Peck on the phone (Jim McDivitt) then going down to dinner. On HBO he is sent to the conference lounge immediately. The Gemini 8 near disaster was well done, as was the Deke Slayton/Gus Grissom conversation. Having Buzz Aldren literally ride the spacecraft as it flew towards the moon was a nice visual, and the last scene of Deke pointing out that one of the men in that room would be the first on the moon was a very poignant moment. The second episode, "Apollo 1," was brilliant. Very compelling television. I only hope at the end of the series we get to see Deke Slayton's trip into space on Apollo-Soyuz.

Obviously not many nits yet. I'll have to see some more.

Lisa Shock: I noticed a lot of "long" blow dried hair. As they panned across the control room, I only saw one or two crew cuts. Period footage shows lots of crew cuts and lots of "greasy kid stuff."

Episode 3 shows several meetings with astronauts and NASA staff, I thought that Alan Shepard was there in a big way - but this show didn't have him appear at all. Reference: "Moon Shot", the TBS special (available on video) which had interviews with several astronauts on the subject.

Observation - This show seems to be making a great effort to portray events not seen in "The Right Stuff" and "Moon Shot".

David D. Porter: A pair for "From Earth to the Moon" part 2, "Apollo 1." In the miniseries, the hatch is shown blowing off the capsule. I can find no source to corroborate the *inward-opening* hatch blowing off. Several, howwever, mention that intense heat prevented rescue crews from approaching the capsule. In other words, I can't confirm for certain that this is a nit, but I think at least one of my sources would've mentioned the hatch blowing off.

A rescue worker is shown handling the hot hatch cover with bare hands. I doubt it. As hot as that fire was, he would not have been able to maintain a grip on the hatch cover. That's aside from the serious damage that his hands would suffer.

Brian Henley: Aw Phooey! I only saw parts 1+2 over my Easter break and I probably won't be able to see the conclusion untill the middle of May! (Can't afford cable at college) Hopefully you won't freeze the file untill then.

What I did see was excellent. Wonderful telling of mankind's greatest adventure. I didn't know that Ed White (who was killed in the Apollo 1 disaster) was the first American to do a space walk. I DID know that Star Trek III's science vessel was named after Gus Grissom.(Kind of a nice sentiment-name unarmed science vessels after space explorers who "came in peace for all mankind") The whole first two episodes were full of little things that I didn't know. Walter Mondale wanted to scrub the Apollo mission? No wonder he got wiped out in 1984!!

Rumination on Mondale's motivation: I think he had a well meaning idea - putting the war in Viet Nam and the poor in the inner cities as more important then a man on the moon. But I still think he's incorrect. The landing of a man on the moon - the exploration of the Final Frontier - gave America a sense of pride that it would not have otherwise had. Suppose we had scrubbed Apollo, and put the money into programs that would have helped the poor. Unfortunatly, poverty is a fact in any society, in any time. All that money would have helped, but wouldn't have completely solved the problem. And we would never have had a man on the moon. (David Marciano puts it much more eloquently then I in his book "All I Really Need to Know I learned from watching Star Trek)

There were nits ... Oh, yes ... there were nits ...

At least I Think there were. The Mercury Seven check into the hotel all under the same name? It's probably historically true, but what a silly idea. Why not just broadcast that there's really something hush hush going on?

What would the Red Chineese do if they ever got ahold of that capsule that got off course? Did they get it?

4/20/98 Update Update (Note from Phil: A quick reminder. It is not my intention to upload every message that I receive. I will always upload comments--i.e. "I enjoyed the episode." "I felt like the episode lacked . . ."--but if a nit has already been picked, it's picked . . . unless I decide to list it twice because it's repicked in a funny way or I just wasn't certain it had already been picked and I was bombing through my mail and I let it pass just in case!)

Lisa Shock: In response to some previous nits from others: "The Right Stuff" was not very accurate in many ways. Most people agree that Grissom did NOT blow the hatch. Every astronaut I have ever seen interviewed denied that he did it, and I don't think they're just trying to protect his memory. The Mercury astronauts were all seasoned test pilots, who had routinely faced uncomfortable situations in unfamiliar equipment as a daily part of their jobs.

I don't think it's too wise to learn history from the movies. I referenced Moon Shot only because it's a documentary that's available to many on video, and it features long interviews with astronauts.

I don't know about the Apollo 1 hatch question, but I do know that one person on the pad WAS badly burned trying to get the men out.

(Note from Phil: I corresponded with Robert Pearlman last week and he ask if I would like him to respond to some of the reflections posted thus far. Of course, I said, "Of course!" ;-)

Robert Pearlman: Here's the first group of responses for the Nit's (referenced by name). Post where/when appropriate...


As shown in "The Right Stuff," Grissom actually did bring the trinkets and there was an investigation into who caused the loss of the spacecraft. For a while there was quite a bit of skeptism regarding whether the hatch had blown by itself or Grissom blew it as panic set in (to gather spilled trinkets and such).

During Walter Schirra's Mercury flight, he purposely blew his hatch after his spacecraft was lifted aboard the recovery carrier. The explosion was so violent, he cut himself -- straight through the protective covering of his suit.

Grissom suffered no abrasions or injury from the blowing of the hatch, strongly supporting his claim that the hatch blew by itself.

The engineer's confession in Part 2 of E2M is probably a reference to this chain of activities (Grissom, as far as my knowledge, was never officially cleared of _not_ causing the loss of ship -- however, he was never held accountable either).

Incidentally, the story goes that it was Grissom who sealed his own fate (not a NASA engineer as depiced in E2M). Grissom, touring the facilities where the Apollo command module was being designed, saw that explosive bolts were being installed on the door. Demanding that he wouldn't fly a craft with explosive bolts, especially when such a door could blow unexpectantly (based on his Mercury flight), the hatch was installed without the bolts. Of course, if those bolts had existed -- Grissom, Chaffee, and White might be alive today.

And in regards to the fire depicted in "Apollo 13" -- you are correct -- two different locations are given for the fires' originating point in the spacecraft. However, taking the two scenes into consideration, it is within the best theory of what happened that flipping a switch caused the short, which in turn, ignited the velcro.



The title "The New Nine" was the unofficial title given to the group of 9 astronauts selected after the "Original 7."

Regarding Hanks, I believe he commented that he wanted to produce each of the stories, and that precluded him reviving the role as Lovell.



Alan Shepard tried to keep himself away from NASA management and face-to-face confrontations. According to Andrew Chaikin, author of "A Man On The Moon" -- the book which served as the basis for the series, Shepard was appointed chief of the Astronaut Office and he reported directly to Deke Slayton. Shepard allowed Slayton to deal with most of the meetings with NASA management, while he dealt with the more internal matters such as training schedules and travel arrangements.

In fact, Shepard's secretary kept a cube on her desk with different cartoon faces depicting facial expressions on each side. Depending on the face displayed, visitors (mostly the astronauts) knew whether to even attempt to approach Shepard or, in some cases, run away. :-)



Actually, the hatch is not portrayed as being blown can verify this in a slightly later scene when a NASA tech removes the white Blast Protective Cover (BPC) and peers through the window of the hatch at the, by then, dead astronauts.

What was depicted the command module's hull rupturing. After the fire broke, the pressure became so strong that it ripped through the side of the module, expelling hot gases into the control room (these hot gases, for visual effect, became the flames seen exiting the rupture in the series).

As for the bare handed engineer -- several times as the fire burned NASA engineers frantically tried to open the hatch, suffering burns themselves. It was not until the hatch cooled significantly were the engineers able to approach and open the capsule.



Actually -- it was the "New Nine" which checked into the hotel under the name "Max Peck" -- and while this may have risen eyebrows, it still avoided a leak of the real names of the new class of astronauts.

Incidentally, "Max Peck" was also the real name of the hotel manager.

David D. Porter: (part 2)

More on the capsule and hatch--according to Andrew Chaikin's "A Man on the Moon," it was several minutes before rescue crews could get close enough to the capsule to open the hatch. Therefore, it wasn't blown off. Flames which were seen on the outside of the craft were escaping through rents torn in the craft by the terrific overpressure caused by the fire.

(part 6)

Hard to tell, but it looked as if there was already a footprint where Armstrong stepped off the LEM. Unfortunately, I wasn't taping, so I couldn't rewind to check.

4/27/98 Update

David D. Porter: (Part 7) The ship identified as USS Hornet (CVS-12) is actually an Iwo Jima-class LPH (helicopter carrier).

(Parts 7&8, and maybe others) Conversations between Houston and the moon, or spacecraft near the moon, don't have the two-second delay that should be present in conversation. Radio waves travel at lightspeed, and the moon is a little over one light-second from Earth. Therefore, Houston talks, a second later Apollo hears and responds, and a second after that Houston hears Apollo. So, from houstons perspective, there is a two-second pause between the end of Houston's question and the start of Apollo's answer. This nit may have been present in earlier episodes and I just didn't catch it.

5/4/98 Update

Richie Vest: In Part 1 Pete Conrad is played by Peter Scoliari in the 7th part Pete Conrad is play by someone else.

If you would like to add some comments, drop me a note at Please put "From Earth To The Moon" in the Subject line and include your real name, city and state (or province and county as the case may be) in the body of the e-mail so I can give you credit if you are the first person to bring up a particular nit. (Remember the legalese: Everything you submit becomes mine and you grant me the right to use your name in any future publication by me. I will do my best to give you credit if you are the first person to submit a particular nit but I make no guarantees. And finally, due to the volume of mail received at Nitpicker Central, your submission may or may not be acknowledged. However, your submission will earn you a membership in the Nitpickers Guild if you are not already a member!)

Copyright 1998 by Phil Farrand. All Rights Reserved.