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apollo 50

Monday Musings: Summer of '69

So where were you in the summer of '69? I know, many of you weren’t even born yet, but for some of us that was a summer to be remembered. And this year, 50 years later, some of the biggest events of that seminal summer were celebrated.

Let’s start with the moonwalk. Not Michael Jackson’s famous dance move, but the fact that the Americans and NASA put the first men on the moon on July 20, 1969. Lots of conspiracy theories abound, claiming that this was all a studio production, meant to put the US ahead of the Russians in the space race. I waffle on the subject, as to real or fake, but as Richard Finklestein pointed out the other day on the Archiving Technical Theatre History Facebook page, at least one entertainment design company had a role in the enterprise.

That company would be Flying By Foy, and while they did not fly us to the moon, the late stage-flying guru, Peter Foy, did work with NASA. As was reported by F. Andrew Taylor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal on November 1, 2011: “It wasn’t technically feasible at the time to keep a live video feed from the Apollo 11 spacecraft in flight. The process of flying to the moon, landing, walking, and returning took days, and television was committed to covering as much of the historic event as possible. Radio transmission was available for much of it, but NASA realized that the option of running hours of audio with no images wasn’t ideal. So it sought help from theatrical professionals to provide visual simulations to go with the audio.”

Enter Peter Foy. According to Finklestein, what attracted NASA's attention to Foy “was his work on a full TV series called ‘Men Into Space’ viewed then as being incredibly accurate in its depiction of space work and weightlessness.” And Foy had worked with NASA earlier to provide footage for some of the Gemini missions. Some of his moonwalk footage was actually used, but nobody is saying how much. It does give one food for thought…

For the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s mission launch, Duran Duran performed at the Kennedy Space Center with hundreds of Intel Shooting Star drones, coordinated by Studio Drift.

Also part of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, another industry firm, 59 Productions, designed compelling video images for an event on July 19 and 20, 2019, called Apollo 50: Go for the Moon, a 17-minute show in DC, which transformed the Washington Monument with projection mapping. The 59 Productions team included video designer Nick Corrigan, scenic designer Jenny Melville, and lighting designer Benjamin Pearcy.

The other big event that changed a lot of people’s lives as well as the music industry was Woodstock, which took place August 15-18, 1969, on Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, New York, about 40 miles southwest of the town of Woodstock. There may or may not be a 50th anniversary celebration of that iconic festival: read the saga of the revival, but for those who were there in the summer of '69, there is no conspiracy theory. It was real all right—mud, traffic jams, and all.

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