Mission Control

  • Soren Adersen Apr 12, 2017

    ‘Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo’ review: a riveting race to the moon

    This compelling documentary is about the men behind the U.S. effort to put an American on the moon. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.

    If “Hidden Figures,” lately in the public consciousness, is the untold story of the U.S. space program, then “Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo” is the oft-told tale of how we got to the moon on July 20, 1969.

    The heroes of the title are the men (the majority of them white) in the white shirts and skinny neckties peering into flickering computer screens in the big control room that we’re familiar with from Hollywood’s “Apollo 13” or, for those of a certain age, from live TV coverage of the events as they occurred during the ’60s.

    Still hidden in David Fairhead’s documentary are the African-American women mathematicians who are the central characters in the 2016 hit feature. It’s a man’s world up there on the screen in “Mission Control,” with barely a female in sight.

    Movie Review ★★★½  

    ‘Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo,’ a documentary directed by David Fairhead. 99 minutes Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Grand Illusion, through Thursday.

    The men were engineers and technicians from a variety of backgrounds who were recruited by the government to get Americans into space. It was the height of the Cold War and the effort was prompted by the urgent desire to beat the Russians to the moon.

    A handful of the men of Mission Control are back on camera, gathered by Fairhead to recall the heady, harried, fateful — and in one key instance, ill-fated (the deadly Apollo 1 launchpad fire that claimed the lives of three astronauts) — effort to achieve that goal.

    They’re old men now, but their memories are sharp, and the pride they feel in what they accomplished undiminished by the passage of the decades.

    Combining talking-head interview segments with archival footage and animated re-creations of key events, particularly of the nearly disastrous flight of Apollo 13, Fairhead has crafted a compelling and often genuinely exciting chronicle of the race to the moon. Hearing the crew of Apollo 8 recite the biblical passage from the Book of Genesis as it orbited the moon on Christmas Eve 1968 recalls a moment when the whole world was intently following the mission.

    What the movie makes clear is that that deeply spiritual moment represented a triumph of management. Under the focused direction of Christopher Kraft, the no-nonsense manager who originated the concept of a mission-control center and who has considerable screen time here, the massive infrastructure that put Americans on the moon was created with remarkable speed.

    In less than a decade from the time President John Kennedy delivered his 1961 declaration to Congress committing the country to go to the moon, the United States achieved exactly that, thanks in large measure to the efforts of the men of Mission Control.

  • Joe Bendel Apr 12, 2017

    Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo

    Thanks to the movie Apollo 13, NASA flight director Gene Krantz and his vest are probably more famous than ninety per cent of astronauts who made it into space, but not one of them would begrudge him the recognition. However, it was not so during the height of the space race, when the Mercury and Apollo astronauts were the focus of an intense media spotlight. The men on the ground who made the space walks possible continue to get their somewhat belated ovation in David Fairhead’s documentary, Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

    They are men who made the dramatic “go/no go” calls. Yes, they were guys as the demographically obsessed will no doubt point out, but they were not all white. Bill Moon was the son of Chinese immigrants, who grew up in Jim Crow era Mississippi. Frankly, they all probably could have worked profitably in the private sector, but in the 1960s, NASA was where the action was.

    Essentially, Unsung Heroes chronicles the history of the Apollo missions from the perspective of the flight directors and flight controllers. Naturally, the triumph of Apollo 11 is the centerpiece of the film, but nearly as much time is dedicated to the tragedy of Apollo 1. Clearly, Dr. Chris Craft is still haunted by the deaths of the crew, yet he also credits the hard lessons learned that day for making it possible for the Apollo program to eventually accomplish its remarkable goal. However, casual space exploration enthusiasts might be most surprised by the rocky start for Apollo 12, which was nearly aborted, but went on to become one of the most successful NASA missions ever.

    Unsung Heroes was produced by Keith Haviland and Gareth Dodds, who also produced Mark Craig’s The Last Man on the Moon, featuring astronaut Gene Cernan (the eleventh of the twelve men to set foot on the moon, but the last to leave). Fittingly, Cernan is also one of several flight crew members paying tribute to the men who got them there and back safely, along with Charlie Duke and Jim Lovell (the commander of Apollo 13).

    It is always refreshing to revisit the patriotic can-do spirit of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, but it is also rather depressing to realize the extent to which we as a nation have retreated from space exploration. That is why a quality space doc like Unsung Heroes is always welcome. Haviland, Dodds, and company make excellent films. Clearly, they have the connections and the credibility with NASA veterans, but they also know how to craft a snappy and informative package. Highly recommended for everyone interested in space exploration, Mission Control: Unsung Heroes of Apollo opens this Friday (4/14) in New York, at the Village East and in Denver at the Sie Film Center.

  • Josh Kupecki Apr 14, 2017

    Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo

    Directed by David Fairhead. (2017, NR, 101 min.)



    You know the room: shaped like an auditorium, with countless screens and readout counters. A succession of tiered rows of computers and workstations, filled with chain-smoking engineers with buzz cuts, short-sleeved collared shirts, and a persistent expression of deep concentration. Often emulated and updated in global espionage blockbusters, this is the real deal: Mission Control. Or, the Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center, as it’s now known. The Houston NASA facility, and the men who oversaw the Apollo program, is the subject of David Fairhead’s film, an absorbing document of the Space Race of the Sixties (aka another endless instance of global dick-measuring), and the engineers who put a man on the moon (supposedly).

    Fairhead is a veteran editor, starting back in 1994, when he worked on the BBC2’s brilliant and prescient news parody The Day Today. He went on to work on many documentaries, much of them science-related, so it’s no shock that his feature debut concerns the nuts and bolts of shooting astronauts into the gaping void of space and onto the nearest celestial body. Mission Control chronicles the efforts of first the Mercury and Gemini programs, before getting into the meat of the math, the Apollo missions. Utilizing every device in the documentary toolkit (talking heads, archival footage, computer animation, and the ubiquitous and austere slow pans across photographs), Fairhead expertly pieces together the history of the men (and they were all men) who tirelessly worked to usher the U.S. into a new level of space travel, often to the detriment of family relations. The only sour note in the film is the accompanying score, a bombastic and annoying succession of strings and tinkling piano that beats you over the head with its intention. That said, Mission Control is an absorbing doc that entertains and informs throughout. And this is coming from someone who barely eked out a C in calculus.

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  • Frank Lovece Apr 13, 2017

    Film Review: Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo

    Documentary about NASA mission controllers of the 1960s and early ’70s is the '20 Feet from Stardom' of spaceflight, giving these mostly background players the prominence and applause they deserve.

    By Frank Lovece Apr 13, 2017


    Specialty Releases


    The formerly buzz-cut crew of NASA mission controllers who sent men into orbit and to the moon—weathering a flash-fire that killed three astronauts and an onboard malfunction that nearly killed three more—are American heroes, no doubt. And that so many of these 1960s stalwarts are still alive in the mid-2010s is every bit as gratifying as the fact they're being lauded in in this documentary based on the book Go Flight: The Unsung Heroes of Mission Control, written by, I kid you not, Rick Houston…as in "Houston, we have a problem."

    The actual lines spoken by Apollo 13's Jack Swigert, of course, were "OK, Houston, we've had a problem here… Houston, we've had a problem," and while this isn't new information, it's just one of the many nostalgia-inducing bits of audio and film/video footage that makes it hard to criticize any sort of documentary about the glorious spaceflight era. Even the most hardened atheist—trust me, I know—can find himself choking back tears as Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders of Apollo 8 take turns reading from the Book of Genesis on Christmas Eve 1968.

    Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo resurrects a heroic array of flight directors, power/life-support specialists, communications guys and others who did the near-impossible with computers barely more advanced than a calculator. There's Chris Kraft, NASA's first director of flight operations, whom astronaut Gene Cernan, who died in January, calls "the creator of mission control. His is the very first voice that we heard." There's flight director Gene Kranz, the "Failure is not an option" guy, who didn't really say that line but sure lived it. And there are so many more, including Sy Liebergot—who is as close to being Newman from "Seinfeld" as anyone who ever worked at NASA.

    And they're candid. "I think we killed those three men. It's almost murder," Kraft recalls of the ill-fated Apollo 1, the mission in which astronauts Virgil Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee lost their lives when a pure-oxygen fire ignited in their command module during a preflight test. "We knew there was bad workmanship. We knew that the wires were exposed," he continues, adding, "I don’t think any of us recognized the seriousness of the danger we had put the crew in"—though, ironically, he says that without that tragedy and the self-searching and strive for perfection that came of it, we would never, he believes, have gotten to the Moon. Kranz, for his part, reflects here that "we could have gone to the program manager and said, 'Look, we're not ready,' but we didn't." He and the other ground controllers recall as if yesterday how he blamed himself and his men.

    And men, indeed, are the only ones we meet, other than present-day flight directors Courtenay McMillan and Ginger Kerrick, the former of whom says admiringly of her pioneer predecessors, "They set the standard, they went through the fire for us"—perhaps not the best metaphor—"and we try to live up to the excellence that they demonstrated every day." Perhaps the book and movie Hidden Figures are too fresh for us to wonder otherwise, but were no women or African-Americans who worked at mission control available to speak? Granted, Mary Jackson died in 2005 and Dorothy Vaughan in 2008, and Katherine Johnson was 98 or so when this documentary was made, but were there really no others?

    Among other shortcomings is an elongated opening that's three and a half minutes of spinning gravel—unidentified people talking, half-garbled electronic transmissions, some spacecraft CGI. And while sound editing isn't a make-or-break, the clumsily layered sounds added to old silent footage are often distracting and artificial, especially when we hear a space helmet's visor "click" into place or Apollo 8 goes "whooshing" by—in the silent vacuum of space. This isn't Star Wars. Don't pander to us.

    That and the occasional descent into engineer-speak aside—the part about "SCE to Aux" is as confusing here as it apparently was to the Apollo 12 astronauts—Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo hits a piece of the spaceflight story that many other documentaries have only grazed. That the filmmakers gathered and spoke with these aging giants, most of whom did not write memoirs, while there was still time—well, I'm glad failure wasn't an option for those who made this.

  • Michael Rechtshaffen Apr 13, 2017


    'Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo' spotlights the men on the ground

    “Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo” is a well-crafted, revealing British documentary reuniting the surviving team members entrusted with safely taking astronauts to the moon and back. Although these hidden figures are exclusively male and almost entirely Caucasian, there’s still much to find uplifting.

    In exchange for their $6,770 starting salaries, those who first “manned” the consuls would often work 35 hours straight under extreme pressure, especially when they had to address the “Houston, we’ve had a problem” distress call from the Apollo 13 crew.

    Filmmaker David Fairhead, who edited 2016’s “The Last Man on the Moon,” profiling the late Gene Cernan, creates a vivid atmosphere (chain-smoking seemed to part of the job description) combining a remarkable amount of archival footage with audio recordings and computer simulations.

    But it’s those insightful contemporary interviews with the likes of Cernan and Jim Lovell, and, especially Chris Kraft, acknowledged as the creator of Mission Control, and Gene Kranz (played by Ed Harris in Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13”), who still favors military crew cuts, that effectively hit home.

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    There’s something undeniably moving about seeing the reunified flight directors and controllers, most now in their 80s and 90s, seated at their original command posts, reflecting on their shared triumphs and tragedies while acknowledging the toll all those stress-filled hours would often take on their family life.


    ‘Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo’

    Not rated

    Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

    Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena; also on VOD

  • Andrew Dansby Apr 13, 2017

    "Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo" tells the story of space exploration in the 1960s and 1970s, but in doing so director David Fairhead turns the camera from the men in spacesuits to the chain-smoking guys in short-sleeve work shirts.

    Fairhead's documentary -- which screens starting Friday at the Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park -- is well-timed. Plans are being made to renovate the MOCR2, the old Mission Control Room at Johnson Space center, which was designated a National Historic Landmark. As of last December, that prospect had been slowed down by negotiations, issues of control and storytelling, and other frustrating obstacles.

    But hopes remain to have the room restored to its Apollo-era state in time for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, which launched July 16, 1969, landed on the moon four days later, and splashed into the Pacific Ocean on July 24.

    Apollo 11 realized a dream of putting a man on the moon, but it falls near the middle of "Mission Control," which documents the troubled process of achieving that goal starting with a capsule fire during a test in Jan. 1967 that killed three astronauts. That accident prompted new accountability and practices summarized by flight controller Gene Kranz as "tough and competent."

    Apollo 12, launched in Nov. 1969, was struck by lightning. And Apollo 13's mission was compromised by an oxygen tank that exploded, necessitating an improvised hand-wringing plan to return it safely to Earth.

    Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton played the three astronauts in the feature film "Apollo 13." Many more actors were required to fill the MOCR2: Ed Harris as Kranz; Marc McClure as Glynn Lunney; Clint Howard as Sy Liebergot; Loren Dean as John Aaron.

    These are the men featured in "Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo."

    None of them seemed to have any frame of reference for the work they'd do. Chris Kraft, 93, became the legendary flight controller who essentially invented the idea of a Mission Control operation. He says he wanted to be a baseball player. Texas born John Aaron, 73, talks of growing up in the country and staring at the moon without even the remotest dream that people would one day walk there.

    Several received vague job offers from NASA with pay that was too good to ignore. Ultimately a team was built. The average age of the men in the flight control room was 30.

    Fairhead had to juggle joy and regret in his story. Kraft's discussion of the Apollo 1 fire is heartbreaking. "Egress, egress," becomes as chilling a repetition as I've heard.

    Other sacrifices are referenced. In describing the toll the work took on his family, controller Bob Carlton said, "If I could go back, I wouldn't do it."

    The director's handling of the moon landing, fraught with uncertainty and peril, and his set-up of the Apollo 13 rescue, are tense and informative.

    And his shot of 11 or so flight controllers in the MOCR2 -- which is so full in the '60s photos -- is a reminder that this oral history resource isn't endless, a point further underscored by the film's interview with astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon. He died in January at 82.

    Note: The 6:45 p.m. screening on Saturday April 15 will include a discussion with two retired NASA engineers, including Bill Moon, who is featured in the film. And yes, that's his real name.

  • Steve Payne Apr 4, 2017

    DVD review: Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo (5 out of 5)

    There have been plenty of documentaries and films about the 1960s and 70s American Apollo space program.

    However, they have, understandably, concentrated on the men fired into the skies who have become legendary because of their exploits.

    But behind the scenes were the men and women who ensured the whole programme ran smoothly and came up with answers when any problem surfaced.

    Using archive footage and interviews with the people on the front-line, this documentary is a must for anyone with any interest in the space race.

    There was tragedy (Apollo 1), a dramatic rescue (Apollo 13) and a host of other missions that led up to the first man on the Moon.

    Many went smoothly but there was always the potential of danger.

    All of this is related by the people who were at the very heart of the project and their passion and enthusiasm remains to this day.

    This excellent documentary will do a great deal to put the focus on those people who made it possible for the American space mission to take place.

    ‘Mission Control’ was directed by David Fairhead and produced by Keith Haviland and Gareth Dodds.

    This British team came to the story after their excellent work on ‘The Last Man on the Moon’, which premiered at SXSW in 2015 and told the tale of Astronaut Gene Cernan. Cernan, who flew three times in space and twice to the Moon, and who died in January this year.

    The film is now available to pre-order from iTunes: http://apple.co/2lP8QDM.

  • bakchormeeboy Apr 4, 2017

    Review: Mission Control – The Unsung Heroes of Apollo dir. David Fairhead

    Houston, we have a problem. These lines have been echoed endlessly and we all know what happened to the astronauts on the Apollo missions through the power of Hollywood, but perhaps given less of a spotlight are the men who work tirelessly on the ground to guide Earth’s finest safely home.

    David Fairhead’s simple but effective documentary Mission Control is a chance for the men who worked on the Apollo missions at NASA’s HQ while the astronauts were perilously up in space to tell their stories. Each member involved is given a chance to tell their stories growing up and how they came to join NASA, from seeing it as an alternative to a normal job, to following their childhood dreams. Many of them hailed from small towns, and it’s immediately endearing to hear them speak so wistfully of their childhoods.

    Although the crew comprised all men, Fairhead manages to even out the gender ratio here by introducing these men to us via some of NASA’s current flight directors, Ginger Kerrick and Courtenary McMillan, both women, and their deep respect for these men who pioneered the future of space and worked so hard.

    Chronologically following the history of the earlier Apollo missions all the way up to the most famous Apollo 13, watching Mission Control is a little like listening to your grandpa telling stories to the family. These are pretty well adjusted, happy men who know how to tell a good story. These are good men dedicated to their mission – spending up to 48 hours working nonstop while smoking furiously looking for the solution.

    Even though you already know the mission’s success, that doesn’t change the fact that Mission Control is still a very gripping locked room drama, helped in part by the great soundtrack. With everyone from the retrofire officers to Eecom and the flight ops director, each man is given a specific objective, and they work like well-oiled machine to fly the astronauts home safely. Along the way, Fairhead also interviews a couple of astronauts, who express immense gratitude for having survived the mission, and are just as likable as the men of mission control.

    Mission Control is a glimpse into the other side of the Apollo 13 mission, the men behind the rescue work on the ground, and a nice moment of reminiscence with plenty of interesting characters, reminding us precisely why space continues to be navigable and the other, unsung heroes behind NASA’s success beyond just the astronauts.

    Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo is available On Demand & DVD from 14th April.

  • Dave Smith Apr 5, 2017

    Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo | Close-Up Film Review

    Dir. David Fairhead, US/UK, 2017, 101 mins

    Review by Dave Smith

    The British team behind this documentary came to the story after their excellent work on ‘The Last Man on the Moon’, which premiered at SXSW in 2015 and told the tale of Astronaut Gene Cernan. Cernan, who flew three times in space and twice to the Moon, and who died in January this year.

    There have been any number of other documentaries and films about the 1960s and 70s Apollo space programme. Mostly, they have concentrated on the astronauts who have become legendary because of their exploits.

    But behind the scenes were the men and women who ensured the whole programme ran smoothly and came up with answers when any problem surfaced. The film uses archive footage and interviews with members of Mission Control, this documentary is a must for anyone with an interest in the behind the scenes of the American space race.

    Early on there was tragedy (Apollo 1), and later, a dramatic rescue (Apollo 13) and a host of other missions that led up to the first man on the Moon.

    Many went smoothly but there was always the potential of danger. All of this is related by the people who were at the very heart of the project and their passion and enthusiasm remains to this day.

    This excellent documentary puts the focus on those people who made it possible for the American space mission to take place.

  • Ivo Bochenski Apr 5, 2017


    MISSION CONTROL: THE UNSUNG HEROES OF APOLLO tells the story of the beginnings of Nasa’s space program through the eyes of those who started it. We go back to a point in the cold war when the evil Soviet empire launched the first man-made object into orbit, and the almost superstitious awe with which people on on the other side of the Atlantic looked to the sky. This produced the impetus of a massive scientific and engineering program (started by Kennedy and continued by Nixon) which aimed to put people on the moon, without any clear idea of how this will be achieved. We follow a disparate group of engineers as they move into the newly designed Houston Space Centre, and the rest of the narrative (from Gemini through to Apollo) unfolds from inside Mission Control.


    Veteran documentary maker David Fairhead’s film treads an uncertain path between scientific exposition and (at times intense) historical drama to leave us with an idea of what it feels like to get an error message from a manned space mission while it attempts something never before tried. This balance is not always successful, and sometimes the film skirts detail in order to appeal more broadly, while it risks alienating its core audience of diehard space geeks (of which I am admittedly, a card-carrying member), and there were several moments when I really wanted to know exactly what it was that they needed to solve, and how they finally solved it. Telling the story in one feature length film is an ambitious move, as this could easily have been a mini-series (either fictional or documentary).

    Hearing it from the key actors nonetheless succeeds in putting us in the front row seat at Mission Control, and makes for frequently exciting drama (particularly during the Aollo 11 and Apollo 13 missions). There are odd moments which stay with you: such us one mission controller realising the magnitude of what just happened half way through lunch in the cafeteria, while catching sight of a nearby TV.

    MISSION CONTROL: THE UNSUNG HEROES OF APOLLO will have preview screenings and is available On Demand & DVD from 14th April.

  • April Blackwell Apr 7, 2017

    Same Story Reignited

    As I strapped myself into the couch to experience Fairhead's 'Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of

    Apollo' documentary I wondered how he would bring a fresh perspective to a seemingly common story - the Apollo program. Other documentaries (When We Left Earth, Lost Moon, From The Earth to the Moon, etc) sprinkle the story of Mission Control throughout, and the History Channel made a Mission Control focused documentary in 2003 (Failure is Not an Option). What story was Fairhead going to tell that hasn't already been told?

    The TL;DR version of this post: the story is not new...it is nearly 50 years old and includes the same characters and scenery, the same plot twists, even some recycled one-liners.

    But, in my opinion, none of that matters.

    The truth is - there is no better story to tell...yet. Our generation doesn't have a collective 'Apollo moment', we have never experienced a country so wrapped up in supporting manned spaceflight to earmark over 5% of the federal budget to get a man on the moon, or anywhere beyond low Earth orbit really. We don't have a time crunch, we don't have a deadline, we don't have a global race for dominance.

    Instead we have a 24 hour news cycle that constantly reminds us of all the terrible things happening all over the world. We have gobs of internet clickables that endorse our personal political views and pigeonhole our news consumption to only the things we want to hear about. The voices that divide us far outcry the voices that unite us. Our worldview has diffused so much and consequently our finances and our focus. The game is changing for manned spaceflight and the [seemingly] few who still prioritize it.

    I hope more than anything that NASA's Orion program sees the light of day, and we find ourselves once more wrapped up, as a country, in pushing the boundary of space; but in the back of my head, we are just one congressional hearing or budget cut away from losing that dream too. The only solace is in private space companies, funded by individuals willing to support whatever the hell they want, unscathed by politics, driven only by desire. Admittedly it's a hard reality to accept for this humble rocket scientist.

    And as I step off my soapbox, I land feet first on the good Earth. A place where movie people can reignite the fire of a bygone generation, where the stories have already been told but are so remarkable they are worth telling again. They can interview the men of mission control, and make a girl like me profoundly proud to follow in their footsteps.

    This documentary unconsciously highlights something everyone who has ever worked in Mission Control knows - 'Mission Control' doesn't refer to a building or a set of consoles or a big board with high def views from space. Mission Control is a culture where the laws are written on stone tablets, the beliefs are centered on crew safety, the language is dominated by acronyms, the relationships are symbiotic, and the communication is clear and concise.

    Personally, I think it would be great to gather up the feelings, emotions, struggles, and triumphs from those days in Mission Control so many years ago and save them in a little box - to be pulled out when our own misgivings surface, a reminder of the incredible feats accomplished at a time when the concept of 'Mission Control' was only months old. Luckily Fairhead and the team behind 'Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo' has put together those impossible collections with elegance and fortitude. The bow on top for me are the interviews and soundbites from two current Flight Directors - both of whom are women. (One of whom signed off on my ADCO Operator Certification!)

    So, should you see the film? Absolutely.

    Will you like it even if space isn't your jam? Guaranteed.

    Is the story still incredible after all these years? You bet your Lunar Module it is.

    You can catch 'Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo' in the following theaters and on demand starting 4/14/2017! Check it out! You have my GO for movie watching ;-)

    New York - Village East

    Los Angeles - Monica Film Center

    Pasadena - Playhouse

    Boulder, CO - Int'l Film Series

    Melbourne, FL - Oaks 10

    Seattle - Grand Illusion

    Denver - Sie Film Center

    Phoenix - Shea 14

    Greenbelt, MD - Old Greenbelt Theater

    Sonoma, CA (SF) - Sonoma Cinemas

    Columbus - Gateway Film Center

    Chicago - Facets Cinematheque

    Houston - Alamo Drafthouse

  • Dana Marie Apr 9, 2017

    Review of Mission Control: the Unsung Heroes of Apollo, Directed by David Fairhead, produced by Keith Haviland and Gareth Dodds, at the 2017 Sarasota Film Festival (SFF) #mysff

    Review by Dana Marie

    Mission Control: the Unsung Heroes of Apollo, Directed by David Fairhead, produced by Keith Haviland and Gareth Dodds, Sarasota Film Festival

    Mission Control: the Unsung Heroes of Apollo is a compelling documentary of the engineers on the ground who planned and executed the most astounding feat in human history: manned space flight.

    Overall, 400,000 individuals came together to produce Apollo. We have accomplished almost 60 years of space exploration from the first unmanned suborbital flights to the International Space Station. Fairhead paired live interviews of key players with NASA footage to highlight the engineers’ roles and their relentless dedication to the mission. While the astronauts basked in glory, the men in the white shirts and pocket protectors were in the trenches. Their motto, created after the first astronaut fatality, was “Tough and Competent” and this film will leave no doubt in your mind that they deserve it.

    This was not just an American endeavor. Audiences worldwide followed our progress, celebrated our victories and cried with us when we failed. The richness of our flight history strikes the hearts of all who long to slip gravity’s constraints and explore beyond the known world, regardless of their address.

    The intensity of the engineering challenges is punctuated with endearing stories of the astronauts ‘ personal lives and training experiences. The American space program is one of the most fully documented events in history. Still, the public had no idea of the number of situations that arose that could have threatened the safety of the missions. These were deftly managed by mission control, often when the problem was thousands of miles away and on hand materials were extremely limited. They made it happen.

    This film will energize your patriotism, make you proud and make you cry. It opens April 14th in major cities and you will definitely want to see it.

    In almost 60 years of human space flight, astronauts have been the face of bravery but it was the engineers on the ground who made it all possible. This fascinating, in-depth documentary set on Florida’s space coast lets the men and women who built the space program tell their stories. Without them, the moon would have remained out of reach and American adventurism would have remained Earth-bound. Combining the excitement of “Apollo 13” and the behind-the-scenes drama of “Hidden Figures,” director David Fairhead uses new interviews and extraordinary NASA footage to craft a gripping chronicle of courageousness

    Section: Spotlight

    Genre: Documentary



    Category: Documentary Feature


    Internal Film Info

    Internal Category: Documentary Feature


    Release Year: 2016

    Runtime: 99 minutes

    Type of Film: Documentary Feature

    Production Country: United Kingdom

    Original Language: English

    Cast/Crew Info

    Director: David Fairhead

    Produced By: Keith Haviland

    Gareth Dodds

    Screenwriter: David Fairhead

    Keith Haviland

    Cinematography: Ian Salvage

    Editing By: David Fairhead

  • Pat Fox Apr 10, 2017



    Given the funding issues with Space Programs throughout the world, I honestly believe this eras’ children will be the first generation, since the Sixites, to grow up without the dream of becoming astronauts. To be a pioneer of that greatest undiscovered realm, the cosmos, was one that rang a deep resonance with many children trapped in our bland mundane world. Except for me, I always wanted to grow up to be Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher (1987). Had a bit of an odd childhood.

    However, no matter how many of you dreamed of going into space, we would still need the support of the guys back home to get us there and back. A pilot is only as good as their air traffic control, as Die Hard 2 taught us. Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo (2017) tells the story of the men of Houston Ground Control.

    Comprising interviews with people from the control desks and archive footage, Mission Control tells the story of the Apollo Ground Control team through its key moments; from the diverse backgrounds its members came from to its famous moments such as the tragedy of Apollo 1, the program’s success of Apollo 8, the seminal moment of our species history that was Apollo 11, and the successful failure of Apollo 13. We learn of the trials, failures, and successes from the people there including Flight Director Gene Kranz (of Ed Harris in Apollo 13 fame). Throughout the film we are reminded of the esprit de corps these men, with an average age of 30, had in their mission, and their mantra of “Tough and Confident”. Tough on preparing for a mission and Confident in its outcome, that enabled them to surmount the challenges of getting humanities first space-crafts to the moon and back.

    This is a good documentary, solid and informative, it does what it says it’s going to do and tell you about the background players in each Apollo mission.

    But it’s not a great documentary.

    I love history. I also love space. I was looking forward to a great film and Mission Control does deliver, up to a point. Getting their stories, their experiences, when we put humans into space brings home the awe inspiring work these people did, and if we ever plan to get off this dying rock hurtling through space we will need people of the same calibre.

    The problem with Mission Control is that it doesn’t feel like a feature documentary. It feels more like a television one, a PBS American Experience film. Not that that’s bad, PBS make some great shows but for a feature documentary I was expecting much more. After a while it turns into a steady stream of interviews, broken up now and then with some archive footage, which holds Mission Control back.

    The reaction of the Ground Control to the deaths of the Apollo 1 men is excruciating and on an emotional level with the joy at the successes of Apollo 8, 11, and 13 but the film doesn’t go deeper than a quick surface glance. It should have been longer or focused on at least one mission and drawn out the story. Each member has a different take on their commitment to the mission; one saying if he had the chance to do it again he’d walk away due to the strain it put on his home life, and how their mantra of “Tough and Confident”, created by Kranz, saw them through both emotionally and physically. But like a claustrophobic miner it doesn’t go deep enough.

    Mission Control reminds us that we were promised that one day we would slipped the surly bonds of earth and walk among the heavens. Yet somehow we remain stuck on polluted stone, falling through space and having to share it with the Kardashians.

    A solid documentary that could have gone deeper.

    Dir: David Fairhead

    Country: USA/UK

    Year: 2017

    Runtime: 101

  • Chris Knight Apr 11, 2017

    Mission Control chronicles the brave and the unsung heroes of Apollo

    Director: David Fairhead

    Writing Credit: David Fairhead

    Cast: NASA mission control personnel from the 1960s.

    Rated: Not rated, but Houston, there are no problems with this one.

    Genre: Documentary

    Duration: 100 minutes

    Synopsis: A look at the men of NASA’s mission control circa 1969.

    Fair warning: Some of these “unsung” heroes had in fact been sung about a fair bit before director David Fairhead discovered them. Names like Gene Krantz, Chris Kraft, Jerry Bostick and even Sy Liebergot will be familiar to those of us who remain in awe of humanity’s first trips to the moon. (Sy was memorably played by Cliff Howard, brother of director Ron, in the 1995 film Apollo 13.)

    But that shouldn’t diminish the praise owed to the brave men on the front lines of Houston’s mission control in the 1960s and ’70s. (They were all men and mostly white, although take a step back and you’ll find a more diverse group – see Hidden Figures, about Katherine Johnson and her black, female comrades.)

    Fairhead, a first-time director and an editor on such lunar documentaries as The Last Man on the Moon and In the Shadow of the Moon, has gathered an impressive number of former controllers – including the aptly named Bill Moon – to get their impressions on some of the milestones of the Apollo years: the tragic fire 50 years ago that took the lives of three astronauts on Apollo 1; the rush of the first manned landing; that crazy day that Apollo 12 was struck by lightning just after launch; and the “successful failure” that was Apollo 13.


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    The film’s 100 minutes doesn’t leave time for much else. Fairhead takes us through a rather rushed recap of the dawn of the Space Age, and somewhat jarringly mixes modern computer-generated recreations of spacecraft with archival footage, much of it featuring British science journalist James Burke. (Fairhead hails from the U.K.)

    The film is bookended with modern female controllers, reminding us how things have changed. “They went through the fire for us,” says Courtenay McMillan, a flight director since 2007. Mission Control makes for an efficient reminder of just that.

  • Shannon Page Apr 12, 2017


    David Fairhead’s Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo shifts its focus from astronauts, and directs it to scientists, engineers, and technicians who played an essential role behind-the-scenes in the success of the Apollo era space program. These are the men that made the moon landing happen from back on earth, but their efforts are rarely as celebrated or glamorized as those of astronauts such as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

    As one former astronaut describes during an interview in the film: “if the astronauts themselves were the tip of the arrow of NASA, then those working in mission control were the feathers – they directed the course of everything.”

    Early in the film, the audience is introduced to the so called “founding fathers” of mission control. These are the men who built the system and chain of command from the ground up, and developed the communication and navigation infrastructure to support some of the most famous space missions in history. Mission Control secures our investment in these characters’ stories by including information about who they were outside of their demanding careers. Interviews with the founding fathers about their childhoods and life before NASA serve to humanize these men.

    Mission Control excels in its pacing and execution. Even if you already know how the missions end, the filmmaker successfully builds suspension and tension. The Apollo program spanned approximately a decade, and hundreds of people worked in mission control during that period, but by focusing on a few key people who were present for all (or nearly all) of that time, the documentary gives the audience characters to connect to and root for.

    Rather than getting bogged down in jargon and the specifics of the math and science behind mission control and the challenges that were faced, Fairhead’s film keeps to focusing on the people in the control room: on their long hours, emotions, and dedication to the success of the mission. Audiences looking for a detailed analysis of Apollo era hardware and computer systems may be left disappointed, but most viewers will find that the decision to focus on individuals prevents the film from feeling like a science textbook.

    Though there was a lot to like about this film, the only thing that didn’t strike the right chord with me was the thematic emphasis that Mission Control placed on patriotism and the patriotic motivation many of the founding fathers had for their work with NASA. The darker moments of the Apollo era narrative, such as the Apollo 1 fire, were framed as necessary sacrifices for the greater good of the country. Similarly, the impact that long hours and a stressful work environment had on the families of NASA employees is also only briefly mentioned. It was difficult not to be reminded of last year’s The Last Man on the Moon, which was co-edited by Fairhead and focused on the same era of the space program but with a much more sobering angle.

    Still, Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo features an effective soundtrack that combines instrumental elements with era appropriate pop-songs from the 1950s and 60s. The effect is subtle, but contributes to the polished, deliberate feel of the film. Similarly, Fairhead combines straightforward interviews, original news broadcasts, archival photographs and footage, with gorgeous shots of the NASA center in Houston as it appears today. The documentary opens and closes on interviews with women who currently work in mission control, a detail that shows the contrast between where the principals were set during the first mission and how much things have changed.

  • Steve Newton Mar 14, 2017

    New documentary focuses on 'unsung heroes' of Apollo missions

    Director David Fairhead, Producer Keith Haviland and former NASA Flight Controller Jerry Bostick talk about 'Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo.'

    A new documentary that premiered during South By Southwest delves into the Apollo program that put men on the moon by focusing on the men on the ground that were part of the monumental undertaking.

    Director and producers David Fairhead, Keith Haviland and Gareth Dodds utilize NASA archive footage and stories from the men who lived it to bring "Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo" to life.

    "At the heart of Apollo was the team who worked in Mission Control in Houston," the documentary's synopsis reads. "They were born in the mid-20th century, a time of economic turmoil and conflict. Some came from farms and a lifestyle little changed for a century. Others grew up in a blue-collar America of mines and smoke stacks. They ranged from kids just out of college to those hardened by military service. But from this group of people an extraordinary team was born, setting out on what JFK called: “The most hazardous, dangerous, and greatest adventure upon which mankind has ever embarked.” The film takes us from the faltering start of the US program, through their personal struggles, to the glories of the Moon landings."

    Before Mission Control's world premiere at SXSW, Fairhead, Haviland, and former NASA Flight Controller Jerry Bostick spoke with KVUE.com about the documentary and what they hope to see from the future of space exploration. Tap the video above for the full interview.

    If you wish to see the documentary during SXSW, there will be a showing at 2:30 p.m. March 18 at ZACH Theatre in Austin. It will be released April 14, 2017.

    TRAILER for "Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo" (TAP HERE if you cannot see the trailer)

  • Jay Mar 16, 2017

    SXSW: Mission Control

    Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo tells the story of the people who inspired the whole world with the accomplishments of their space program. The first men were young, the average age about 30, most didn’t even know what computers were but they were tasked with sending a man to the moon. They basically had to invent NASA and space travel from the ground up, on the thrillingly generous salary of $6770 a year.

    This was such an important time in human history that you can’t help but be drawn in to this drama. In fact, it’s a real credit to the director, David Fairhead, that this documentary feels thrilling even though we all know extremely well how the story turns out. But it’s also contemplative and insightful, the men recounting the hard times that led to the successes, the loss of life that inspired them to do better, to do great things. And they certainly did.

    This documentary focuses on the people manning the stations in mission control – the men in contact with astronauts during their space flight. Any problems encountered by the space craft is on their shoulders, with practically no time at all to fix unfathomable challenges and absolutely no room for error. Failing is not an option.

    Mission Control is interesting not just for interviewing the people behind the history, but for painting them as real people, country boys and working class kids from smokestack towns. The position of astronaut or NASA engineer or rocket scientist were complete unknowns when they were growing up. And yet they became this remarkable team who defeated the odds and accomplished such great heights.

    Fairhead’s documentary has got some really cool archival footage of those first journeys toward the moon – Apollo 8, 11, and even 13, which is as tense as you’d think. These guys remember this time like it was yesterday, right down to details you’ve never considered, like what the room smelled like when people were working for 5 days, nonstop, under stressful conditions, smoking like chimneys, no time to reapply deodorant. But these interesting details are also enhanced by beautiful VFX work and a really nice orchestral score. It’s exactly the kind of tribute that these men deserve.

  • Natalie Salvo Mar 18, 2017


    Stop and take a moment to think about what you were doing at the age of 27 or what you will do if it’s yet to come. If you’re a musician it is likely that you are dead but if you were working at NASA during the Apollo era then you had a hand in putting man on the moon. Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo is a documentary that takes a leaf out of Hidden Figures’ book because it puts the focus on the boffins that achieved great things by working at mission control and it is one truly fascinating story.

    The film marks the directorial debut of David Fairhead who has worked as a film editor for several decades. Fairhead was also the editor of the previous SXSW documentary, The Last Man on the Moon. In Mission Control Fairhead is close to the subject matter as he wears the multiple hats of director and editor yet he manages to produce a compelling, if rather technical story.

    This documentary includes and focuses on interviews with the men who worked at NASA during the Apollo era. This includes astronauts: Charlie Duke and the late Gene Cernan as well the founder of mission control, Dr Christopher Kraft. It also includes a huge roll call of men who worked as flight directors, in life support systems and other areas. There are also two female interviewees: Ginger Kerrickand Courtenay McMiller who currently work at NASA.

    This is a story that focuses on the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s one that doesn’t gloss over the failures of Apollo 1, which resulted in the deaths of Gus Grissom, Edward H. White II and Roger B. Chaffee during testing. Instead the documentary talks about how this was a major turning point for the team. In the aftermath of this tragedy the group at mission control bandied together and adopted the mantra of “tough” and “competent”. It was one that would see these ordinary men of different social backgrounds (with an average age of 27) including many who were either fresh graduates or soldiers setting out to achieve something that most had figured was mission impossible.

    In 2017 people like talking about things like “digital disruption” and “working out loud” and yet it’s amazing to think that from the 1950s to the early 1970s when computers were dumber than today’s average mobile phone that people could achieve feats like those that were accomplished. Consider: Apollo 8 was the first mission to leave Earth’s orbit and to subsequently reach and orbit the moon before returning safely to earth as well as Apollo 11 where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the small step that turned out to be a giant leap for mankind when they walked on the moon. The story is jubilant at these successes and it’s interesting to hear the proud and passionate engineers and scientists talking about the nail-biting moments where things went wrong and how they overcame some setbacks with quick-thinking, teamwork and good decision-making.

    Mission Control includes archive footage that has never been shown before as well as old newsreels and powerful animations simulating the journeys into space. These latter moments in particular help to cut through some of the drier, more technical parts.

    Our fascination with space continues to this day with an enthusiasm that remains unfettered. It is also a spiritual experience to witness scenes like the lunar sunrise where the perfect accompaniment comes from some recitations from the bible’s book of Genesis. Even those who aren’t religious could enjoy this moment and perhaps think of David Bowie singing, “Planet earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.”

    David Fairhead’s directorial debut is living proof that people can achieve big things by putting their heads together. To put man on the moon was a huge, staggering challenge that is still spoken about today (even if it’s just when comedians like Jerry Seinfeld joke about it). These scientists and technical specialists are an inspiration, as they had the vision, expertise, ability and quick-thinking to achieve one hell of a magnificent feat. This means that films like Mission Control should be mandatory viewing for anyone working in a team because it is like watching a love letter to NASA’s rocket men.


    Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo premiered this week at SXSW. It is also available via video on demand through Gravitas Ventures.

  • Dylan Love Mar 20, 2017

    'Mission Control' Shows NASA at Its Most Ambitious

    In the 1960s, NASA was seemingly unstoppable.

    Just when you thought you knew everything there was to know about a uniquely rich sliver of American history, a documentary like Mission Control comes along to tell you otherwise.

    Covering the formation of NASA, as well as the conception and execution of some of its most famous missions throughout the 1960s, Mission Control tells the story of the American space program a too-often neglected point of view: that of the NASA engineers and scientists who never left Earth so that they might facilitate others in doing so.

    These widely unsung heroes — the mission controllers — have finally gotten their due in documentary format. The film had its world premiere at SXSW and will see a theatrical release on April 14, a planned coincidence that resonates with an anniversary of the notorious Apollo 13 space flight.

    Directed by David Fairhead and produced by Keith Haviland, Mission Controlpresents itself as a love letter to teamwork by going in-depth on one of the most compelling teams of people ever assembled: the early NASA flight staff.

    “Many of them came from ordinary backgrounds, smokestack towns and mining communities, the middle ranks of the Navy and the Army,” Haviland tells Inverse. “They came together and did extraordinary things, achieving the remarkable outcome of landing a man on the moon in less than a decade.”

    “They weren’t like the astronauts,” Fairhead adds. “They weren’t test pilots. They hadn’t gone to MIT. They’d gone to conventional universities. They weren’t high flyers, but they were good at math and physics.” Generally blue-collar though they may be, this class was good at their jobs not necessarily because of what was in their heads, but what was in their hearts: “They’re calm in a crisis. They’ve got an inner steel to deal with problems of life-threatening enormity in a way that’s generally very impressive.”

    American history is quick to point to celebrated astronauts like Neil Armstrong and John Glenn, but these success stories are only borne on the back of a lot of hardship and setback. The film talks at length about the oft-forgotten apollo 1 mission, which saw the death of three astronauts during a launch rehearsal; the cabin caught fire and the increased air pressure prevented anyone involved from opening the door. There's nothing easy about getting into outer space.

    Deke Slayton (in black shirt, left of center) director of flight crew operations, and Chester M. Lee shake hands in Mission Control, while Rocco Petrone watches Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell on the screen.

    People like Gene Kranz, flight director during the notorious Apollo 13 mission, would step up to shape an identity for the mission controllers. Kranz famously delivered his “tough and competent” speech in the wake of the Apollo 1 fire, urging all NASA personnel to wholly identify with these two words to honor of the memory of the three astronauts who had just died.

    This legacy is of course still honored at NASA today. “Out of nothing, they built this great institution,” says present-day NASA flight director Courtenay McMillan in the film, gesturing to the contemporary mission control room behind her. “They put us on the path to human spaceflight.”

    To hear the film’s creators talk about it, space exploration literally opens us up to new facets of human experience. “There’s something called the overview effect,” says Haviland, “a term invented in the 1980s, and it was about seeing the earth from space — a common astronaut experience.” Suddenly able to witness the entire planet churning in the blackness of oppressive space, an astronaut sees no national boundaries and experience Earth as an oasis. They transcend.

    “[Famed Apollo 13 commander] Jim Lovell recently began speaking about how we’re all ‘born into heaven,’ because the earth is a precious gem in quite a hostile universe,” Haviland continues. “Being able to see what we are from a distance has always been fascinating and is one of the side effects of the space age.”

    Largely told with original archival footage from the time, the story is sweetened exponentially with interviews from many of the aged mission controllers who were actually there in the 1960s pushing the buttons that made it possible for mankind to exit the atmosphere. “These are probably the last interviews they’ll do,” says Fairhead.

    This movie will appeal to any man or woman who works in the context of a team. The early mission controllers thrived due to excellent leadership, but they also had potent interpersonal ingredients that came together for the better. Over a decade of aiming for a distant bullseye, they formed a connection with each other so productive that it got mankind off of Earth.

    “They came from these ordinary backgrounds only to do something quite extraordinary,” says Fairhead. “[The film] is a kind of tribute to the power of a team.”

    As mentioned, Mission Control sees a theatrical release on April 14, but you can already pre-order it on iTunes and Vimeo. If you derive any kind of joy at the notion of outer space, this movie will reward you.