Chasing the Moon
The People, the Politics, and the Promise That Launched America into the Space Age
JFK issued the historic moon landing challenge. These are the stories of the visionaries who helped America complete his vision with the first lunar landing fifty years ago.
A Companion Book to the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE® Film on PBS®
Going in depth to explore their stories beyond the PBS series, writer/producer Robert Stone—called “one of our most important documentary filmmakers” by Entertainment Weekly—brings these important figures to brilliant life.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy proposed the nation spend twenty billion dollars to land a man on the Moon before the end of the decade. Based on eyewitness accounts and newly discovered archival material, Chasing the Moon reveals for the first time the unknown stories of the fascinating individuals whose imaginative work across several decades culminated in America’s momentous achievement. More than a story of engineers and astronauts, the moon landing—now celebrating its fiftieth anniversary—grew out of the dreams of science fiction writers, filmmakers, military geniuses, and rule-breaking scientists. They include
• Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, whose writing inspired some of the key players in the Moon race. A scientific paper he wrote in his twenties led to the U.S. beating Russia in one area of space: communications satellites.
• Wernher von Braun, the former Nazi military genius who oversaw Hitler's rocket weapons program. After working on ballistic missiles for the U.S. Army, he was recruited by NASA to manage the creation of the Saturn V moon rocket.
• Astronaut Frank Borman, commander of the first mission to circumnavigate the Moon, whose powerful testimony before Congress in 1967 decisively saved the U.S. lunar program from being cancelled.
• Poppy Northcutt, a young mathematician who was the first woman to work in Mission Control. Her media exposure as a unique presence in this all-male world allowed her the freedom to stand up for equal rights for women and minorities.
• Edward Dwight, an African American astronaut candidate, recruited at the urging of the Kennedy White House to further the administration’s civil rights agenda—but not everyone welcomed his inclusion.
Setting these key players in the political, social, and cultural climate of the time, Chasing the Moon focuses on the science and the history, but most important, the extraordinary individuals behind what was undoubtedly the greatest human achievement of the twentieth century.