Former Astronauts John Glenn, Jim Lovell, Tom Stafford & Alexei Leonov Interviewed
With the Olympic Winter Games taking place in Sochi, Russia, NBC News special correspondent Tom Brokaw chronicles the Cold War space race that took place during the 1950s, 60s and 70s between the United States and the Soviet Union in a special, Space Race, that will Saturday afternoon (Feb. 15) within NBC's Olympic coverage, which begins at 3 p.m. ET/PT.
The special examines the most memorable moments of the space race, including Sputnik; Alexei Leonov's first-ever spacewalk; the Apollo 11 moon landing; and the joint U.S.-Soviet "Apollo-Soyuz" mission in 1975 that, according to astronaut Tom Stafford, ended the race.
Brokaw and NBC Olympics' production team interviewed former U.S. astronauts John Glenn, Jim Lovell, and Stafford; former Soviet cosmonaut Leonov; and Natalya Koroleva, the daughter of Sergei Korolev, the man behind the Soviet space program.
"It has become a tradition for us to recount a major news story that occurred between the U.S. and Olympic host country, and the space race was one of the defining events of the 20th century," says NBC Olympics Executive Producer Jim Bell. "Tom Brokaw is the perfect voice to guide us through this journey, telling a powerful story through interviews with astronauts, cosmonauts, historians, and family members of those intimately involved in this epic contest. 'Space Race' will give our audience a fresh perspective on how the Russian people experienced the race and, to a degree, the Cold War."
The program also recounts the story of Stafford and Leonov, who maintain the most unlikely of friendships. The two men were enemy fighter pilots on the opposite side of the Berlin Wall, traveled into space for their respective countries, and then built a profound friendship through the journey they took together for the "Apollo-Soyuz" mission, which culminated with their shaking hands in space, 144 miles above Earth.
"The joint American-Soviet space mission was a perfect symbol of the historic changes in the world of deeply divided ideologies and nuclear threats," says Brokaw. "We went from pointing missiles at each other to exploring the heavens together – and the men who pulled it off, cosmonauts and astronauts, all had the right stuff. They became life-long friends. It's how the world should work all the time."
"Space Race" is the latest installment of NBC Olympics' tradition of producing a news-themed special involving the United States and the host country. For Vancouver, NBC Olympics produced "Operation Yellow Ribbon," which chronicled the story of Canadians in Gander, Newfoundland, who took in stranded passengers when nearly 40 jumbo jets landed in their small town of 10,000 on 9/11. "Their Finest Hour" aired during the London Olympics and told the story of how the U.S. and Britain came together in WWII, including the British resolve during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz.