By Glenn Kenny
The director Rory Kennedy has a personal connection to the subject of her latest documentary. “Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow” is a 60th-anniversary celebration of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration — NASA, that is. While the agency was founded during the Eisenhower administration, it was President John F. Kennedy, Ms. Kennedy’s uncle (the filmmaker is the daughter of Robert and Ethel Kennedy), who defined NASA’s mission for the better part of a generation by instructing it to set its sights on a manned mission to Earth’s moon.
NASA put man on the moon for the first time in 1969, via Apollo 11, and that landing brought the world together in a way those who witnessed it swear had never happened before or since. This is just one of the achievements chronicled in “Above and Beyond,” which Ms. Kennedy also narrates. Featuring contributions from assorted NASA scientists and historians, the movie considers space missions less as vehicles for human adventure — though its treatments of several NASA missions that resulted in loss of human life is sensitive — than as explorations of what’s out there. And specifically, the question of whether there’s another planet that can sustain something like human life.
Illustrations from covers of 1950s pulp magazines shown here remind the viewer of human hopes to someday colonize Venus or Mars, planets that NASA’s crafts and instruments found to be “too hot, too cratered, with bad atmosphere,” as one scientist puts it. The film also shows how the space agency looks out for life here on Earth, monitoring from the sky the health of our coral reef ecosystems. This is not a spectacular picture, but it’s an informative and heartening one that might make a good double feature with “First Man,” the forthcoming fictionalized blockbuster about Apollo 11.
Above and Beyond: NASA's Journey To Tomorrow
Writers Mark Bailey, Don Kleszy
Rating Not Rated
Running Time 1h 30m