The moon, and all the brightest stars  07/13/2019 14:00:00 

In the infancy of television, the BBC had taken Doctor Who and his companions to a fictional moonbase invaded by the Cybermen; later producers Gerry and Sylvia Anderson created the perfect post-60s moon story in UFO, complete with high-tech "interceptor" fighters and purple-wigged "moon girls".

The 1970s film Capricorn One, about an abandoned mission to Mars which is then faked in a film studio to appease the media, also gave pop culture one of its enduring lunar conspiracies: that the 12 moonwalks of the Apollo program between 1969 and 1972 were somehow also faked in a TV studio.

Years later, and with a Hollywood budget, 1983's The Right Stuff brought to life NASA's manned spaceflight Mercury program and starred Fred Ward as Virgil Grissom, Dennis Quaid as Gordon Cooper, Ed Harris as John Glenn, Scott Glenn as Alan Shepard and Charles Frank as Scott Carpenter.

In a curious footnote, those five astronauts served as the inspirationfor the Andersons' Thunderbirds series, and their first names - Virgil, Gordon, John, Alan and Scott - were used to christen that show's iconic Tracy brothers.

But it was not until the 1990s that lunar storytelling took another leap, with Apollo 13 (1995) and Apollo 11 (1996).

Based on Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger, Apollo 13 was a docudrama directed by Ron Howard which starred Tom Hanks as Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell, Kevin Bacon as backup pilot Jack Swigert, Bill Paxton as lunar module pilot Fred Haise, Gary Sinise as command module pilot Ken Mattingly and Ed Harris as team flight director Gene Kranz.

The film brought the aborted 1970 Apollo 13 lunar landing - of "Houston, we have a problem" fame - to cinematic life and went on to win two Oscars from nine nominations.

As with many such moments in history, the phase, and Apollo 13's depiction of it, are not wholly accurate. In fact it is Swigert who said "Okay, Houston, we've had a problem here" and then, after an exchange with mission control, Lovell who said "Uh, Houston, we've had a problem."

Hanks returned to the space program in the 12-hour HBO miniseries From The Earth To The Moon, which took its name from the Mlis film, but was based on Andrew Chaikin's book, A Man on the Moon.

In many ways a definitive work, it explored the beginning of the US "space race" with the Soviet Union, the formation of NASA and the launch of the Mercury, Gemeni and Apollo projects, the Apollo 1 fire, the Apollo 8 lunar flight and, of course, the Apollo 11 lunar landing. (Fun fact: at NASA they pronounce Gemeni as "gehm-en-ii" not "jem-en-eye".)

Then there were moments where storytellers stepped out of the traditional frame, exploring both the absurd - the brilliant appearance of the weathered Apollo 11 module in the Futurama episode The Series Has Landed, which aired in April, 1999 - and the more humanistic aspects of the story, such as the deeply touching exploration of Australia's role in the lunar story, the 2000 film The Dish.

For many Australians that film, and the way it portrays the part the radio telescope at Australia's Parkes Observatory played in the relaying of live images from the moon landing to NASA's mission control, still retains great cultural resonance.

The story as told in the film gently consolidated some of the detail; another Australian tracking station, the now-retired Honeysuckle Creek, near Canberra, also carried NASA's signal, as well as California's Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex, however key parts of the moon landing vision relayed to mission control, and televisions around the world, including the iconic "moonwalk", came through Parkes.

Perhaps the least sophisticated story of the moon landing, but the most deeply human, is the most recent, 2018's First Man, which casts the lunar story through the lens of a solitary figure, astronaut Neil Armstrong who was the first man to step onto the surface a non-terrestrial world.

"There is a tendency to think of Neil Armstrong as a superhero, or a god, and it's even more impressive to look at him as an ordinary human being, who was just thrust into an absolutely extraordinary position," First Man's director Damian Chazelle told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Like Alan Bean, Armstrong was forever altered by his experience on the moon. And like many of the few who have shared that experience, he struggled to find the words to describe it.

"It's really interesting for us as artists or storytellers to see the way in which this kind of life-altering experience, of going to the moon, in some way seemed to bring out the artist in everybody," Chazelle said.

"Maybe because it inspires you to try to describe an experience that's ultimately indescribable, so you turn to poetry, or you turn to painting, or you turn to religion, or you turn to other things to try to wrap around it," he says."

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