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Go / No Go :
"Liftoff! Success and Failure on the Launch Pad" DVD

Review by Rick Houston

Studio:   Spacecraft Films
Release:   2005
Length:   More than 6 hours on 2 discs
MSRP:   $34.99
Extras:   Commentary by engineer Dave Mohr and producer Mark Gray

For those of us born after the fact, it is hard to imagine growing up during the darkest days of the Cold War. It is hard to fathom living with the very real possibility of not waking up to a tomorrow. And while watching the four Air Force documentaries contained on Liftoff: Success And Failure On The Launch Pad, it is even harder to imagine how one could go about making what amounts to a public relations film glorifying the rocket systems built to deliver nuclear warheads around the globe.

Yet they are here, complete with cartoons representing military officers, contractors and so forth. Likewise, while the captured German footage of the Pennemunde V-2 rocket tests is fascinating, it's a sobering realization to know these weren't rockets that were going to bear noble explorers into space. These were killing machines... and they were aimed at my grandfather, who served in Europe during the latter stages of World War II.

Beyond that, Liftoff! features film of a multitude of launch vehicles. There is some interesting footage of pioneer Robert Goddard, with commentary from Spacecraft Films' producer Mark Gray, and a short clip of the famous failed 1957 Vanguard launch attempt. The second disc includes images of the preparation and launch of the United States first satellite, Explorer I, Vanguard, Pioneer 2 and Juno II.

Then it's on to bigger things, literally. Two Saturn I, two Saturn IB and three Saturn V launches lead into the first Space Shuttle liftoff.

This release truly benefits from commentaries provided for various segments by Gray and propulsion engineer Dave Mohr. They're informative, yet not so technical that the average viewer wouldn't be able to understand.

There is room however, for improvement. In most cases, there isn't much provided by the way of explanation given about the progression from one type of launch system to the next. While understanding Spacecraft Films unstated philosophy -- that is, to provide as much uncut footage to create as complete a historical document as possible -- a full-length documentary on the evolution of rocketry would have been a great addition to Liftoff!.

Further, the rockets seem to run together after a while watching, with the obvious exception of the Saturn and Space Shuttle footage. It is hard to pick out a particular highlight on this release because for the layman, rockets seem to look alike when they are launched.

Go/No Go: Liftoff! is more a success than failure. This is history, and it is an important part of the evolution of the rockets that put man into space. It may not have been consolidated as clearly as it could have been, into a more informative documentary, but it's still a worthwhile effort.

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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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