‘Above and Beyond’ Details NASA’s Inspiring Journey to Outer Space

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Attention, Earthlings: As you read this, a roving vehicle named Curiosity is exploring the terrain on Mars, satellites orbit our planet collecting climate data and American flags stand on the moon. These and other awe-inspiring achievements of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration are celebrated on its 60th anniversary with Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow.

What makes the marvel-packed 90-minute film even more special is the director’s personal connection to the subject. Documentarian Rory Kennedy, a niece of President John F. Kennedy, takes us from her uncle’s 1961 directive for a lunar landing, which kick-started the then-fledgling space agency, to today’s preparations for a human mission to Mars. “From a very young age, I had an appreciation for NASA and a sense of pride in terms of my uncle’s contribution,” she says.

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Expect big-picture stories of NASA’s founding and its vision, but also micro-stories, says Kennedy: “The institution ultimately is made up of individuals who have gone above and beyond: astronauts, scientists, the crew building the James Webb telescope [named for an early NASA administrator and expected to launch in 2021 to study distant galaxies].”

Over two years, the Emmy winner conducted more than 45 interviews and led a “scavenger hunt” through archival footage, where she scored images of early Apollo programs and shuttle missions. Animated segments sub in for things that were impossible to film, such as how rovers land on Mars, while old illustrations reveal the fanciful ways previous generations imagined neighboring planets (Tarzan would have fit right in on jungle-y Venus) before NASA probes proved otherwise.

“NASA informs so much of what we know,” Kennedy says. “We make [the science] relatable. We hope families see it and it excites that younger generation.” Ready for liftoff!

Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow, Documentary Premiere, Saturday, Oct. 13, 9/8c, Discovery