50th anniversary documentary: 'Washington Goes to the Moon, Part I'

Astronaut Michael Collins and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana.
Astronaut Michael Collins, right, speaks to Kennedy Space Center Director and Minneapolis native Bob Cabana at Launch Complex 39A Tuesday about what it was like to be part of the first mission to land on the moon. Collins was orbiting in the Command Module.
Frank Michaux | NASA via AP

The first of two documentaries by Richard Paul of WAMU and the National Science Foundation about aspects of the Apollo 11 moon landing story that are rarely told.

Apollo is usually the story of the people at NASA’s Mission Control, astronaut Neil Armstrong and the engineers who accomplished this incredible technological feat.

This is a look at what happened in Washington, D.C. We very nearly didn't go to the moon for political reasons inside the Beltway. The political problems of maintaining a coalition of support to fund the program were just as difficult as the technical problems the engineers in the field were facing.

President Kennedy
President John F. Kennedy
Courtesy of the Kennedy Library

The documentary examines what happened behind the scenes and public policy stories leading up to Apollo 11's flight to the moon. The stories told in this documentary — about NASA management, White House budget politics and Congressional oversight — had as much to do with Apollo 11 reaching the moon as the Saturn 5 rocket, but they are rarely told.

This program, "Washington We Have A Problem," looks at the battle to keep the Apollo space program funded and on deadline. It tells, among other stories:

  • Within weeks after pledging to send a man to the moon, President John F. Kennedy got cold feet and tried to get out of the commitment by bringing the Soviets on board.

  • Lyndon Johnson's budget director tried to scrap the goal of getting to the moon by 1969 in order to help Johnson pay for the Vietnam War.

“Washington Goes to the Moon: Part I,” was produced in 2004. Part two, airs Thursday.

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