If anyone reading this post from the future does not remember what the first few months of 2020 were like, the world was under a major pandemic with the Coronavirus, aka COVID-19. This horrific situation left many of us in a shelter-at-home mandate to prevent the spread of the highly contagious virus. The lack of commutes, school, airline travel, office meetings, normal shopping and being out and about had driven some people completely stir crazy. Even homebodies like me who love to stay in can get a little cagey when they are told that they MUST STAY IN (like being in NASA’s Mission Control when the freeze-dried icecream hits the fan).
Luckily. there is not a shortage of online entertainment. After you have binge-watched The Tiger King or rewatched Game of Thrones, you might need something to do. That is where today’s recommendations come in the form or two incredible non-fiction podcasts that have less to do with science fiction, and more with scientific fact. The subject matter is related to the United States space program and the race to the moon, which (spoiler alert) culminated with Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind” on the lunar surface.
I should probably let you know that the podcasts that I am listing here do not talk about watches, not even once. If you are looking for encyclopedic coverage about collecting Omega Speedmasters and how they played their part in space travel, that subject is covered exhaustively on websites like Fratello Watches and Hodinkee. You can spend days learning about different Omega Speedmasters (aka Speedies) that span almost 75 years of history (since 1957). Those sites are a great place to start.
What the Moonrise Podcast and Thirteen Minutes to the Moon Podcast give Omega Speedmaster fans is the context of the late 1960s when NASA’s Mercury and Apollo Programs were in full gear. The contemporary mind cannot imagine the epic scale and scope of these programs, how much money was spent on them and how success was not a guaranteed outcome. Going to the moon was dangerous and NASA learned several hard lessons on the way. The path to our closest heavenly body is paved in sweat, blood, and money. But there is even more to these stories than you think you know.
While the writing and photography may be top-notch on dedicated watch journalism sites, it might be time to try something new to enhance your understanding of events surrounding the moon landing in 1969. Podcasts have the power to take you on a different kind of journey using your ears and imagination. Oral histories are the oldest form of storytelling that humankind has. It is as powerful today as it was thousands of years ago sitting around a campfire. I believe listening to events instead of reading about them or even watching them puts a listener in a different headspace. Perhaps a listener can connect more with the characters in a story if they do not see them. They are forced to imagine how they themselves might react during a situation or historic event.
I have listened to radio stories ever since I was a child. My parents would play radio shows from the different eras of the 20th century. These stories would transport me to another time and place, and I would forget that we were on a mundane car drive. Oral stories can take you places without ever leaving the comfort of your own home… so prepare yourself to go to the moon with these incredible space program podcasts.
By Lillian Cunninham, The Washington Post
I honestly thought I knew the origin story of John F. Kennedy’s “we choose to go to the moon” speech. Many of us have seen his 1963 address and have gotten chills from hearing those now-famous words. They on are the same level as Lincoln’s “Fourscore and seven years ago…” or Rosevelt’s “December 7, 1941, a day which will live in infamy…”. These few words changed the course of American history, and the world forever.
Movies seem to make the event seem like Kennedy’s main mission was to get to the moon, but why? Was he really that obsessed with space flight? Was he the leading advocate for this program that would end up costing more than World War II’s Manhattan Project that created the first atomic bombs? The answers to these questions and more are contained in the Moonrise Podcast. They are not what you think they will be either. Instead, the truth is more interesting and nuanced than popular history textbook might suggest.
I guarantee that you will learn something new in this fascinating Washington Post podcast by journalist Lillain Cunningham. I am not even going to attempt to rewrite anything from a Washington Post reporter so here is the description from the Moonrise Miniseries Podcast website:
Want to uncover the real origin story behind the United States’ decision to go to the moon? In the 50 years since the moon landing, as presidential documents have been declassified and secret programs revealed, a wild story has begun to emerge. “Moonrise,” a new Washington Post audio miniseries hosted by Lillian Cunningham, digs into the nuclear arms race of the Cold War, the transformation of American society and politics — and even the birth of science fiction — to unearth what really drove us to the moon. Listen to the episodes as they’re released each week, and come along with us on a fascinating journey from Earth to the moon.
Moonrise Podcast is available on Apple iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts and Stitcher. Make sure to check out the companion Moonrise website that has an interactive mileage map showing the distance between the Earth and the Moon. Enjoy some of Lillian Cunningham’s other podcasts for the Washing Post including Presidential and Constitutional.
By Dr. Kevin Fong and Andrew Kuck-Baker (and tem)
Thirteen minutes is not a long time, but a lot can happen including undocking a lunar lander from an orbiting command module and touching down on the lunar surface. This stellar podcast dissects vintage NASA Mission Control recordings of this event over the course of 12 episodes, plus bonus features. You might be thinking “how in the world” can someone stretch 13 minutes of staticy interstellar transmissions into roughly nine hours of podcasts?
I am happy to say that there is never a dull moment as the host, Dr. Kevin Fong, navigates you through a bewildering series of events during the first moon landing. Dr. Fong is well qualified as he “holds degrees in astrophysics and aerospace.” If that was not enough, he “flies as part of a helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) crew covering the South East of England”. This unique blend of brains, adventuring spirit and insight into dangerous missions makes Dr. Fong the perfect host.
Above all of those qualifications, Dr. Fong presents the events of Apollo 11 with real humanity. I was moved several times by his interviews of people who were actually there in both Mission Control and also on the mission. Michael Collins, the “third man” who remained in lunar orbit while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down is interviewed as the last surviving member of the Apollo 11 crew.
Other interviews are made throughout the podcast with pivotal people and unsung heroes of the space program. This made me realize that the moon landing was not just a technological endeavor, but perhaps the greatest human exploration mission attempted to date. It is a story of the right people in the right place with the right attitude to get the job done.
The BBC has a companion website for Thirteen Minutes to the Moon podcast with more infomation, photos and videos that makes a gerat listening companion.
The production value on this podcast is very high including a haunting soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. Hans is famous for over 150 movie soundtracks including Gladiator and a long list of other award-winning films. This is the first time his musical talents have been applied to a podcast. Bonus materials include an interview with the maestro.
Season two chooses the second most famous NASA mission, Apollo 13, and presents it with a similar effect as the Apollo 11 mission in the first season of the Thirteen Minutes to the Moon podcast. Many people already know this story from the popular Apollo 13 movie starring Tom Hanks, but there is still more to learn. I would wager that this podcast is as exciting as the movie and dives deeper into the details and people involved. It is long-format audio storytelling without the constraints of a short Hollywood run-time.
My hope is that Dr. Fong and his co-writer/series producer Andrew Luck-Baker (plus team) will continue season after season creating a historical record for future generations. The distant human race might not realize the importance of these events for humankind because it would be so far in their past. This powerhouse duo has made talking about space travel exciting again… something that NASA could use help with. Fong and Luck-Baker bring the humanity of these endeavors to the forefront. Tune in and be inspired by humankind’s greatest moments.