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The Space Race - Five Fantastic Historical Films That Bring the Space Race Alive

Lynn Marie Sager

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The Space Race began on October 4, 1957 with the launch of Sputnik and ended on July 17, 1975 with the rendezvous of the Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft. Between those dates, humans walked, drove, and played golf on the moon. It is hard to believe that more than 30 years later, many kids are unaware of this amazing time. Here are five awarding films that can bring it alive for them.

Apollo 13 tells the story of Commander James A. Lovell, Command Module pilot John L. “Jack" Swigert, and Lunar Module pilot Fred W. Haise, who launched from earth on April 11, 1970 in the ill-fated Apollo 13. Two days after the launch, an explosion caused by an electrical fault in an oxygen tank crippled the Apollo spacecraft. Despite great hardship caused by severe constraints on power, the crew successfully returned to Earth. The mission was thus called a “Successful Failure. " This wonderful award winning film certainly brings that moment to life.

The Right Stuff tells the story of NASA's Mercury Program, and the seven men chosen to lead the missions, Malcolm Scott Carpenter, “Gordo" Cooper, Jr. , John Glenn, “Gus" Grissom, “Wally" Schirra, Alan Shepard, and “Deke" Slayton. Full of brilliant performances, this film will keep you riveted while it educates.

Wonderfully kid friendly, October Sky tells the story of Homer Hickam, son of a West Virginia coal miner who was inspired by the first Sputnik launch to take up rocketry, eventually becoming a NASA engineer. While attending Big Creek High School in 1960, he led a group of boys who built rockets. They called themselves the Big Creek Missile Agency. They went on to win the National Science Fair and full college scholarships. Perhaps the best historical element of this film is its combination of Space Race dreams with West Virginia coal town reality. This film introduces kids to the concept of company towns in which everyone lived in company houses, sent their kids to the company school, and shopped in a company store. It also gently introduces them to the union movements of the fifties, along with the powerful draw space flight had on everyday Americans at the time.

From Earth to the Moon is a Golden Globe winning twelve episode miniseries that relates the entire space race, from the Mercury and Gemini projects to the legendary Apollo missions. It may not be star studded, but it tells the full story and entertains at the same time.

In the Shadow of the Moon is a wonderful award-winning documentary that brought together the surviving members of NASA's Apollo missions and allowed them to tell their story in their own words. Mixed with archival footage, we get to meet the men who lived the experience and actually walked on the moon.

All of these films are family friendly, and you can probably find copies of them at your local library. So why not plan a Historybusting evening with your kids? Give them a little education and fun at the same time. They will thank you later.

Looking for other great movies to share with your kids?

Visit for a list of over 1000 great historical films. Every movie on Historybusters has been hand picked for historical accuracy and entertainment value. Why? Because the best way to learn history is through story. After all, that's what history truly is - a really wonderful story. Our criteria? If a movie is accurate enough to help someone pass a test, and it's still enjoyable - you'll find it here.

Lynn Marie Sager teaches history in Los Angeles, CA. In her spare time, she runs the Historybusters Website, dedicated to hooking young people on history one story at a time.


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