Your Definitive Guide to TV Specials for the Moon Landing’s 50th Anniversary
Chasing the Moon
Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins are just three of the complex heroes in this sweeping documentary that covers the 1960s space race from inception to lunar touchdown. Chasing the Moon also brings together scientists, politicians, media experts and regular folks.
The engrossing three-parter opens with a color shot of Americans by the carload heading to Florida’s Cape Kennedy in the early hours of July 16, 1969, to watch the Apollo 11 launch in person. Coverage then switches to black-and-white, person-on-the-street TV news interviews from 1957 about the Russian satellite Sputnik — its launch made getting to the moon a priority for the U.S. — before continuing chronologically. Voiceovers include Valerie Anders, wife of Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders, and Sergei Khrushchev, son of former Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, who presided during Sputnik.
“I wanted to capture what it was like for us to live at a time when we had this grand, aspirational goal, a sense of optimism,” says writer-director-producer Robert Stone. “It’s a human story about what it took to do it. This is really a story about us.”
Monday–Wednesday, July 8–10, 9/8c, PBS (check local listings at pbs.org)
The Armstrong Tapes
Get to know the real Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, through interviews with his sole authorized biographer, family and colleagues. It’s a deeply personal look at the hero who will always be remembered for taking “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Monday, July 8, 9/8c, National Geographic
NOVA: Back to the Moon
Our nearest celestial neighbor likely hasn’t seen the last of us earthlings. Find out how scientists and engineers are working to make life on the moon a reality. Vacation on the Sea of Tranquility, anyone?
Wednesday, July 10, 8/7c, PBS (check local listings at pbs.org)
Moon Landing: The Lost Tapes
Newly uncovered footage, rare photos and previously untelevised audio interviews capture the Apollo 11 astronauts’ challenges and secret uncertainties. The special covers the preparation, launch, nine-day journey and that triumphant July 20, 1969, landing.
Sunday, July 14, 10/9c, History
CBS Evening News
Anchor Norah O’Donnell leads coverage of the anniversary in the evening; pieces will also be featured on CBS This Morning (7am). CBS’s free streaming news service, CBSN, will reair its historic broadcasts at the time they happened 50 years ago: On July 16 at 9:32am/8:32c, see Walter Cronkite cover Apollo 11’s launch. Moon landing footage streams July 20 at 4:17/3:17c, followed by Neil Armstrong’s big moment at 10:56/9:56c.
Monday–Friday, July 15–19, 6:30/5:30c, CBS
All week, the morning show team (with Savannah Guthrie) will air Apollo 11–themed segments. Hear from astronauts who have walked on the moon since 1969; get a look at Neil Armstrong’s space suit, newly refurbished by the Smithsonian. On NBC Nightly News (6:30/5:30c), Lester Holt visits L.A.’s Griffith Observatory and reveals what experts have learned about the moon in the last 50 years.
Monday–Friday, July 15–19, 7am, NBC
The newsmagazine will feature an animated graphic that re-creates the moon landing. And during the week of July 15, Good Morning America (7am) and World News Tonight With David Muir (6:30/5:30c) will air special space-themed reports.
Thursday, July 18, 12:35am/11:35c, ABC
Wonders of the Moon
This special wows with stunning images of how the moon influences living things on Earth — for example, South Pacific coral reefs breed in sync with its cycles. Plus: Hong Kong’s lunar-centric mid-autumn festival.
Friday, July 19, 10/9c, BBC America
Apollo: The Forgotten Films
An inspiring behind-the-scenes look at the intense groundwork done prior to the first moon mission. Footage from NASA Research Centers, the National Archives and vintage news reports shows how the brave astronauts and some 400,000 dedicated scientists and engineers prepared to land a spacecraft at a precise spot about 239,000 miles away from Earth.
Saturday, July 20, 8/7c, Discovery and Sunday, July 21, 7/6c, Science Channel
Apollo: Missions to the Moon
Filmmaker Tom Jennings feels a deep connection to this two-hour documentary, which revisits all 12 Apollo missions through NASA films, archival TV footage, home movies, never-heard-since radio broadcasts and NASA Mission Control audio that, for the first time, includes the voices of individual engineers. Jennings clocks his fascination with the space program to December 24, 1968, when, at 7, he was walking home on a bitterly cold Cleveland night after running an errand for his ill mother. “The first men to circle the moon [on Apollo 8] were about to do a live television broadcast back to Earth,” he says. “I kept looking from the moon to my house, wondering how they could do that. It was a moment of magic and wonder, one I’ve always wanted to revisit.”
His film depicts that thrill of Apollo 8, as well as the elation of Apollo 11, with Neil Armstrong’s history-making moonwalk, and the heartbreak of Apollo 1, when three astronauts died in a launchpad fire. Missions gives “a sense of what it was like to be alive then,” Jennings says. “If you do remember it, this may make you see it a different way.”
Thursday, July 11, 8/7c, National Geographic
A Year in Space; Beyond a Year in Space
PBS reairs the fascinating 2016 and 2017 documentaries about the year now-retired astronaut Scott Kelly spent on the International Space Station and then his life back on Earth.
Wednesday, July 17, 8/7c, PBS; Tuesday, July 30, 9/8c, PBS (check local listings at pbs.org)
Moon Landing Live
Experience the awe felt by people worldwide as they watched Neil Armstrong take man’s first steps on the lunar surface. NASA footage and news broadcasts from here and abroad bring history back to life.
Saturday, July 20, 9/8c, BBC America
The Day We Walked on the Moon
Americans reminisce about how they felt in the first 24 hours following the moon landing, including new interviews with Neil Armstrong’s children. As his son Mark tells TV Guide Magazine, “The anniversary is a great opportunity to use the success of the past to inspire the next generation. Let’s bring the kids in, get ’em dreaming and see where they take us!”
Saturday, July 20, 9/8c, Smithsonian
Astronomers and other experts reveal how our earliest human ancestors unlocked the mysteries of space in this three-part series.
Wednesday, July 24, 8/7c, PBS (check local listings at pbs.org)
Saturn’s thousands-mile-wide rings. Mars’ once-flowing waterfalls. Neptune’s raging winds. This five-part miniseries narrated by Zachary Quinto (Spock in the Star Trek movies) details the marvels of our solar system.
Wednesday, July 24, 9/8c, PBS (check local listings at pbs.org)