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'When We Left Earth' series to take off on Discovery Channel

Developed in collaboration with NASA, the new miniseries marks the first time that most vintage space footage has been available in HD. Slight problem: Cameras weren't too good back then.


NEW YORK--On Tuesday night, the Discovery Channel hosted a few hundred guests at the American Museum of Natural History's Hayden Planetarium for a preview of When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions, filling the audience up with cocktails called "The Liftoff" (a tequila sunrise in a rocket-like champagne glass) and then packing us all into the planetarium's theater to watch some cool retro space visuals.

The miniseries got its start when Discovery embarked upon a project to archive old NASA footage in a high-definition format as a commemoration of the agency's 50th anniversary. It evolved, following in the footsteps of last year's successful Planet Earth, into an ambitious, high-profile HD miniseries. When We Left Earth is very watchable, especially for space junkies who will dig the never-before-seen clips of astronauts. But it's less visually impressive than its terrestrial predecessor. The problem with turning grainy 1960s-era footage into high-definition is that it's still grainy 1960s-era footage.

That said, in an age when space travel only seems to make headlines when Sir Richard Branson is talking about his lofty plans to jet millionaires around among the satellites, it was pretty cool to peek into an era when NASA wasn't always brought up in the same sentence as "budget cuts." The national enthusiasm over the quest to put humans on the moon is something that we could all learn from when it comes to current scientific challenges--alternative energy, I'm looking at you.

When We Left Earth is a six-part series; Tuesday night's screening featured episode two, about the Gemini missions of the mid-1960s. It was an apt pick for the big screen, because Project Gemini was the first U.S. spaceflight initiative to feature space walks, which are always good eye candy. It was also an upbeat chapter to screen, considering Project Gemini went relatively smoothly and disaster-free, minus a (SPOILER ALERT!) moderate nail-biter when Gemini VI initially failed to launch.

It'll premiere on the evening of June 8. "Liftoff" cocktails aren't included, but you can easily make your own with some orange juice, grenadine, and Cuervo.