Rory Kennedy’s new documentary on NASA weaves cautionary tales with triumphs of the human spirit
Rory Kennedy wants to save the world. And the award-winning documentary filmmaker has made a movie about NASA—revisiting the agency’s extraordinary achievements for its 60th anniversary—whose subtext is clear: Our planet is in danger.
“What NASA is doing to help us understand what is happening with our planet became a driving theme of the film,” Kennedy says of Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow, from her house in Malibu. “[There’s] this new sense of purpose and urgency that NASA has to help us protect Earth, which is really in jeopardy.”
Kennedy, whose past documentaries have tackled human rights and social issues, such as the AIDS crisis (Pandemic: Facing Aids, 2003) and the treatment of prisoners of war (Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, 2007), traveled from Florida to Hawaii to the Great Barrier Reef over the course of two years to interview NASA scientists who are using their research on the ozone layer and the effects of pollution to educate the public.
“We are in a time and a place where we need to heed these warnings,” says Kennedy. “We need, as human beings, to rethink a lot. And one of the big things we need to do is invest in these scientists and the work that they’re doing. They’ve helped us understand what the problem is and what we need to do to find the solution.”
A comprehensive history of six decades, the film (which airs on the Discovery Channel and Science Channel on Oct. 13) examines the agency’s past and future: from the historic mission to the moon, propelled by Kennedy’s uncle, President John F. Kennedy, to exploring the surface of Mars, searching for life outside of Earth, and gazing back down on our own planet.
Accompanied by dazzling visuals from the Hubble Space Telescope, the documentary offers a lens on mankind’s greatest mysteries (“Everybody at NASA I talked to believes that there is absolutely life on other planets,” says Kennedy). It also features interviews with astronauts, including the Apollo missions’ Rusty Schweickart and Jim Lovell, as well as a chilling alert about the environmental path our “Blue Marble” is on—a particularly pressing issue for California, which according to recent reports can expect a huge increase in fires and higher water levels due to the effects of climate change.
Still, Kennedy has hope: “There’s a lot we can do to preserve this planet for future generations,” she says. “This film speaks to this extraordinary ability of humans, that when we come together with that sense of purpose, we can really accomplish extraordinary things.”
Written by PETER DAVIS.