NEW YORK — After five consecutive nights of "Space," the CBS miniseries based on James A. Michener's fictionalized account of the history of space exploration, viewers now can look forward to "Spaceflight," a four-part series on public TV that its creator claims tells "the real story."
Narrated by actor Martin Sheen, the four one-hour documentaries are scheduled to be broadcast on public television stations, including KCET Channel 28 in Los Angeles, over consecutive Wednesday nights beginning May 8.
"The American public will for the first time be given a comprehensive overview of the U.S. space program--what we've done and why we've done it--as well as a close look at the Soviet program that has had so much to do with what we've done," series executive producer Blaine Baggett said on a visit here from his Washington, D.C. base.
Baggett strongly criticized the "Space" miniseries, which aired last week, as a "soap-oper-y 'As the World Turns' in space." And while he referred to author Tom Wolfe's nonfictionalized account, "The Right Stuff," as the inspiration for his own series, he said the recent film version of Wolfe's book "did an injustice to people and to history."
"Both the movies and the media in general have taken fact and turned it into fiction, and then not told the public up front that it was fiction," Baggett said. "There has been an absence of historical continuity."
Three years in the making, "Spaceflight" traces the U.S. and Soviet space programs from the turn-of-the-century days of pioneer rocketry through the launching of Sputnik in the late 1950s, the astronaut/cosmonaut missions of the '60s, lunar missions of the late '60s and '70s and the more recent shuttle programs.
The final segment in the series focuses on the future and includes what Baggett termed "an investigation" into both the U.S. and Soviet plans for the militarization of space.
The four documentaries consist largely of footage provided by news agencies and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and of more than 40 interviews with journalists, scientists, military officials and all the living Mercury astronauts.
Among those interviewed are astronauts Wally Schirra, Pete Conrad, Gene Cernan, Michael Collins and Sally Ride, famed test pilot Chuck Yeager and NASA mission flight director Christopher Kraft.
Baggett said that the series also contains some material that has had little or no public exposure, including information about near-disasters throughout the history of the U.S. space program.
"It's all there and available," he said, referring to the documented history. "It's just that NASA has made no special effort to get it out to the public."
What is more unusual is film footage that Baggett said he and his production team obtained from a former science attache of the Soviet Embassy in Washington. The Soviet footage, most of which has never been seen here before, includes Soviet scientists at work and early Soviet rocket explorations, he said.
"What we (the U.S. space program) have done has had a lot more to do with what the Soviets have done than with the plotting of our own destiny," Baggett said of the conclusions he has drawn from working on the upcoming series.
"The Soviets have more of a grand design, with space as a natural evolution of a place for humankind. When it comes to space, we've been far more reactive than they."