A history of space flight.




1987   1986   1985  


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Series cast summary:
Martin Sheen ...  Narrator 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Frank Borman Frank Borman ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Scott Carpenter Scott Carpenter ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Gerald P. Carr Gerald P. Carr ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Eugene Cernan ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Michael Collins ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Charles Conrad Charles Conrad ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Gordon Cooper ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Robert L. Crippen Robert L. Crippen ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Walter Cronkite ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Scott Crossfield Scott Crossfield ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Walter Cunningham Walter Cunningham ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Krafft A. Ehricke Krafft A. Ehricke ...  Himself - German rocket scientist 4 episodes, 1985-1987
John Glenn ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Christopher Kraft ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Gene Kranz Gene Kranz ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Gentry Lee Gentry Lee ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
John M. Logsdon John M. Logsdon ...  Himself (author) 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Jim Lovell ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
George Nelson George Nelson ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Gerard K. O'Neill Gerard K. O'Neill ...  Himself (author) 4 episodes, 1985-1987
James E. Oberg James E. Oberg ...  Himself (author) 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Sally Ride ...  Herself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Roald Sagdeev Roald Sagdeev ...  Himself (Soviet space scientist) 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Wally Schirra Wally Schirra ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Russell Schweickart Russell Schweickart ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Robert Seamans Robert Seamans ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Alan Shepard ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Hugh Sidey Hugh Sidey ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Deke Slayton Deke Slayton ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Marcia Smith Marcia Smith ...  Herself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Robert Voas Robert Voas ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Tom Wolfe ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Chuck Yeager ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
John Young ...  Himself 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Dwight D. Eisenhower ...  Himself (archive footage) 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Robert H. Goddard Robert H. Goddard ...  Himself (archive footage) 4 episodes, 1985-1987
John F. Kennedy ...  Himself (archive footage) 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Sergei P. Korolev ...  Himself (Soviet space scientist) (archive footage) 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Christa McAuliffe Christa McAuliffe ...  Herself (archive footage) 4 episodes, 1985-1987
Wernher von Braun ...  Himself (archive footage) 4 episodes, 1985-1987


This 4-part documentary miniseries covers the history of manned and unmanned space-flight, from the late 1800s through the mid-1980s. The first episode, "Thunder in the Skies", begins with the theories of the Russian schoolteacher Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, followed by the liquid-fueled rocket experiments of the American scientist Robert Goddard. The Nazis in World War II construct the V-2 ballistic missile, and after the war German scientists such as Krafft Ehricke and Wernher von Braun come to the United States to continue their rocket work. Meanwhile, the experimental X-series aircraft being tested at Edwards Air Force Base fly closer and closer to the edge of space. But the Soviets beat the United States into space through the efforts of the mysterious "Chief Designer", Sergei Korolev. The United States must play catch-up; they abandon the slow progress of the X-planes in favor of missiles, and NASA and Project Mercury are born. The second episode, "The Wings of Mercury", looks at ... Written by yortsnave

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Release Date:

1985 (USA) See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

WETA, WYES See more »
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Alternate Versions

After the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in January 1986, the 4th episode of this 4-part mini-series was redone to include footage and interviews about the disaster. See more »

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User Reviews

Still one of the best.
16 November 2008 | by YrmySee all my reviews

I first saw this documentary series on television in 1986, and I have subsequently re-screened my recordings several times. This is partially why it feels more important to me than many of the other similar documentaries of the space age. Its strength lies in writing and execution: the familiar footage is interspersed with poignant original interviews, woven into a persuasive and compact narrative and varnished with an excellent score – heroic and sentimental, certainly, but executed very tastefully and given a fittingly ethereal sheen to make it highly compelling and memorable. Its fluid but far from grandstanding visual execution renders it comfortably timeless, when compared to some more impressive but already dated CGI enhancements in certain bigger-budget productions of 1990s. The series pushes enough emotional buttons to absorb especially an adolescent viewer, but for most part doesn't lose its factual content in melodramatics.

Looking back from two decades on, I can also see its flaws. It is very much an American documentary from the very last years of the Cold War and subject to the limitations in viewpoint and available material that this entails. This is especially noticeable in the second and third episodes, which map out the actual manned space race of the 1960s from Vostok 1 to Apollo 11. The Soviet space programme is given a rather cursory glance, while almost every American achievement is gleefully acknowledged, ending in a requisite "America is first to the finish line" blurb. This does convey some sense of the political fears and public fascination underlying the space programme in the United States at the time, an impression of what it meant to the collective consciousness, rather than just a recitation of its actual scientific achievements. It also serves to remind that these, some of humanity's greatest accomplishments, were driven at least as much by primal hunger for power and by ideological polarisation as they were by quest for empirical knowledge and technical achievement. With these limitations in mind, Spaceflight excels.

The final episode, which looks at the state of global space exploration in the mid-1980s, is probably the most balanced, most encompassing and also the most dated. The number one topic of the time, SDI, is given a fairly even-handed presentation, though the inherent absurdities of the world situation and nuclear stalemate logic are now more blatantly obvious (unlike the fact that the same tensions have not disappeared as much as we often like to think).

The number two focal point, the hopes and lofty ambitions bestowed by NASA on its space shuttle fleet, strikes an unavoidably sad chord after the destruction of Challenger and Columbia and the dwindling of the shuttle programme into a kind of crippled white elephant. The optimism and misgivings about the manned space programme close the episode, and they are much as they are today. In some respects the horizons are no closer today than they were twenty years ago.

In short, while some parts may be obsolete, the core of Spaceflight still feels relevant after two decades. Many later documents in Europe and the USA have come up with new material and new angles to the story of space race, but few have told it with such gravity and taste.

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