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Go / No Go :
"Apollo 13: To the Edge and Back" DVD

Review by Rick Houston

Studio:   WGBH Boston
Release:   2004
Length:   90 minutes on one disc
MSRP:   $19.95
Extras:   Scene selection and closed captions

There are moments in Apollo 13: To The Edge And Back where the interviews and footage seem all too familiar to space buffs.

We know that veteran space traveler Jim Lovell led two rookies, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert, on the mission. Haise, we know, left behind a pregnant wife and three children, while Swigert was very happily a bachelor. We know Haise liked to use the cabin repress valve to tweak his crewmates.

We've heard Lovell's "Houston, we've had a problem" air- to-ground transmission many, many times. And if your last name is Houston, heaven help you. It's even worse. Oh, how funny. How original.

We know that the command and service module had to powered down, that conditions in the LM were miserable and that Haise developed a very serious infection. We know that Lovell wrapped his body around Haise in an attempt to raise his body temperature.

And so on and so forth.

A space novice though, wouldn't know all these details, so it was essential that they be included. So what's to like about To The Edge And Back for someone already familiar with the flight?

For all its familiarity, To The Edge And Back goes well beyond the usual documentary. The computer-generated animation of the Odyssey/Aquarius CSM/LM stack is superb. Marilyn Lovell is interviewed, as she has for other productions, but her and Jim's daughters, Barbara and Susan are included as well, as is Margaret Haise, one of Fred's and Mary's daughters.

Chris Kraft, Gene Kranz, Glynn Lunney, Sy Liebergot, John Aaron, Merlin Merritt, Ed Smylie and Tom Kelly (who oversaw construction of the LM for Grumman), are very positive forces in this documentary. To The Edge And Back goes deep into the trenches, to the men who were helping make the most important decisions of the mission. Lovell, Haise and Swigert, for the most part, were just along for the ride. It was the men on the ground who got them back home.

Liebergot, who today frequently posts to collectSPACE, offers up one of the three most memorable and poignant moments from To The Edge And Back. When he says he never felt so alone as during the crisis, not discounting the others in mission control, you can practically feel his emotion.

The other two moments are quite emotional as well. Haise describes finding pictures of his family on board the spacecraft, and hoping to himself that he would someday get to see them again. Also, near the end of the program, Kranz, ever the hard-core, former Marine pilot, complete with the crew-cut hairstyle, stops in mid-stream as he's discussing the return of the Apollo 13 crew.

"Aww, s*** ... it was neat," he says, and wipes away a tear. That scene alone is very nearly worth the price tag.

There are a few minor problems though, that prevent a glowing recommendation. Brief glimpses into the Soviet Union's early space triumphs and Lovell's flight on Apollo 8 - but not his first two trips into space during the Gemini series - threaten to derail the flow of the program. It's not necessarily bad information... it just seems out of place. The race to the Moon with the Soviet Union was over by the time Apollo 13 flew, and if Lovell's Apollo 8 flight was covered, why not Gemini 7 and 12?

Also, Ken Mattingly, the original command module pilot for Apollo 13, is never mentioned by name. Early in the show, as the crew is introduced, Swigert is said to be "a last-minute replacement for another astronaut who was exposed to the measles." It's short shrift to a major piece of the Apollo 13 story. Why? Possibly, Mattingly wasn't available to be interviewed, but certainly others were and could have weighed in on the topic.

Finally, the closing credits roll over images of astronauts cavorting on the lunar surface. It seems an inappropriate and rather cruel ending, considering Lovell and Haise never got the chance to explore the Moon for themselves. Does it send a message, if unintentionally, that their astronaut careers were incomplete because they did not land on the Moon? Decide for yourself.

Go/No Go: Go, but find a bargain. The DVD can be found new or used for around $10 on Amazon's Marketplace. Beware of eBay however, because there seems to be several knock-off VHS tapes of this show available for a few bucks each.

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About the reviewer:
Rick Houston is an avid collector of DVDs (he has more than 600). Houston is also a space history enthusiast, so he is sure to not miss a documentary or docudrama.

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