JPL documentary captures struggles behind Voyager mission

After 35 years of operation, NASA announced in September 2013 that its Voyager 1 spacecraft, operated by Jet Propulsion Laboratory, had reached the space between the stars: interstellar space.

This was a victory for the mission and the first time a human-made object has ever gone beyond the region where the impact of the sun ends, and where particles from other stars enter into the solar system, according to officials with the space exploration agency.

But what many don’t know is the project almost never made it off the ground.

The challenges mission managers and JPL faced to develop and launch the twin Voyager spacecraft – originally designed to conduct close-up studies of Jupiter and Saturn, Saturn’s rings and the larger moons of the two planets – are chronicled in a new documentary.

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed former JPL director Bruce Murray's first name as Brian, and stated project scientist Ed Stone was a director of the documentary.

“The Stuff of Dreams: Beginnings of the Space Age” is directed by Blaine Baggett, director of the Office of Communication and Education at JPL and an Emmy award-winning producer, director and writer.

The documentary is the latest in a series of productions by JPL that aims to both capture the firsthand accounts of explorers, and preserve the agency's film archive that consists of old footage locked in a vault, Baggett said.

The public will have a chance to view the documentary, which  is currently in its final post-production stage, on Wednesday, Feb. 19 at Caltech’s Beckman Auditorium.

Through first-hand accounts, the documentary captures former JPL director Bruce Murray’s struggle to find funding for the space shuttle program, a space telescope and missions to other planets during budget uncertainty and debates about the future of the U.S. space program, according to a JPL statement. 

It also documents problems the mission encountered in space, such as the first Voyager launch in the summer of 1977 from Cape Canveral, Fla., when the spacecraft began tumbling and couldn't find the sun.

“Through first-hand accounts of those who were there, ‘The Stuff of Dreams’ shows how the mission and the lab survived in those uncertain times and kept their eyes fixed on the dreams of exploring far beyond Earth,” Jia-Rui Cook, a spokesperson for JPL, wrote in a statement.

What: Documentary showing: "The Stuff of Dreams: Beginnings of the Space Age”

Where: Beckman Auditorium, CalTech

When: Feb. 19, 2014, 7:30 p.m.

Admission: Free

-- Sameea Kamal,

Follow on Twitter: @SameeaKamal.


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