Rory Kennedy to Present Sneak Preview of Her New Documentary Commemorating NASA’s 60th Anniversary

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President John F. Kennedy makes a pledge that the United States will put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. 

Who better to make a film about 60 years of NASA than Academy Award-nominated documentarian Rory Kennedy? 

It was her uncle, President John F. Kennedy, who challenged the nation with his famous, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade” speech in 1961. He persuaded the American people to support the Apollo program—the national effort that landed the first men on the moon in 1969.

“I was approached by the Discovery Channel about doing this film for NASA’s 60th anniversary, and I leapt at the chance,” Malibu resident Kennedy said in a phone interview. “I’ve always admired NASA, and given the connection to my family, and Uncle Jack and his vision early on, it was a chance to give back.

“I felt, growing up with the Apollo program, so much excitement about astronauts and space exploration and pushing the edges of knowledge, which is missing today,” she continued. “Maybe I can ignite a younger generation to get as excited about it as my generation.” 

When the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was founded in 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and congress, it was to compete against the Soviet Union in the “space race.” Americans panicked after the Soviets launched the first satellite, Sputnik 1, and feared being left behind in space exploration and technology. The U.S. self-perception problem worsened in April 1961, when Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. These events led to Kennedy’s Apollo program. 

The film, of course, doesn’t stop with the moon landings; it continues with the Voyager Missions to study the planets in our solar system, the Skylab, space shuttle programs, earth-observing satellites, observatories like the Hubble Space telescope, and various solar, lunar and planetary space probes. 

A number of people are interviewed in the documentary, including key NASA people and several astronauts: Jim Lovell of Apollo 13; Scott Kelly, International Space Station (ISS) commander and Space Shuttle pilot; Peggy Whitson, ISS commander and astronaut with the most days in space (665); and various astronauts in the current class.

Kennedy said the film also focuses on “how much we have learned about ourselves and the earth” through NASA programs. “NASA has given us a deeper understanding of the preciousness of the earth and how humans impact the health of this planet,” she said. “Just like Hurricane Florence and all the climate changes due to carbon emissions, it’s a warning that we need to change the course we’re on.” 

“Above & Beyond:  NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow” was produced and directed by Kennedy, and co-written by her husband, Mark Bailey, and Don Kleszy. “Structurally, the film worked best as an essay—I approached it as an essay,” she said. “It looks back over 60 years, and it’s a celebration. We jump around between NASA’s explorations and the big questions—Are we alone? How did the universe begin? We also look at our own solar system, the newest projects that NASA is working on and the challenges of today and the future.”

Kennedy narrates the film herself, including the introduction. 

“I’m not a huge fan of my own voice,” she said, “but I wanted a more personal touch.”

“Some of the footage we’ve included in the film from the Hubble Space Telescope is breathtaking and mind-blowing,” Kennedy said. “You see how big the universe is and how many galaxies there are. The images of supernovas and planets forming and dying are amazing.” 

She described the Hubble Deep Field, where scientists trained the Hubble Space Telescope on a very small, dark spot in the universe that appeared to be empty. 

“An area that, if you stretched out your arm and held up your thumb, might be as big as your thumbnail,” she explained. “What they found with the telescope was endless numbers of galaxies in the spot where there was no light.”

Kennedy and Bailey will be joining the Malibu Film Society for a Q&A after a free 7:30 p.m. screening of the NASA film on Thursday, Sept. 27 at 24855 PCH.  The event is open to the community but requires advance reservations on the Malibu Film Society website. 

In addition, the NASA film will be shown in hundreds of U.S. theaters Saturday, Sept. 29, at 12:55 p.m. and Wednesday, Oct. 3, at 7:00 p.m. For tickets and locations, go to the Fathom Events website. The documentary will also air Oct. 13 on the Discovery Channel.