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October 23, 2017 - No Comments!

Margaret Hamilton: The Rope Mother

Meet Margaret Hamilton: the “Rope Mother.” When MIT was awarded the contract to design Apollo’s guidance and navigation computer, the notion of creating software to run it was an afterthought at best. In the early ’60s, computer programming was seen as an unsophisticated and undesirable task. In fact, the term “software” did not even exist (Margaret would create it to distinguish her role from those designing computer “hardware”).

A self-taught programmer, Margaret developed a sophisticated series of binary code programs the astronauts would run to get them to and from the lunar surface. Unlike modern computers, the Apollo guidance computer had two types of memory: the first could be written to and read from (what we now call RAM memory); the second was read-only. While modern computers store information on silicon chips, information had to be “written” into a series of magnetized donut-shaped pieces called cores. These cores were then threaded through a series of wires. If the wire passed through the core, the computer sensed a binary “one”, and if it went around the core, a binary “zero.” The entire assembly was called a core rope––an incredibly difficult and time-consuming contraption to build–one completely foreign to today’s software engineers.

Margaret’s guidance programming not only succeeded in getting astronauts to and from the moon, but when a computer overload threatened to scrub the first attempted lunar landing on Apollo 11, it was her software that automatically told the computer to ignore certain non-vital functions, giving it the processing power needed to focus on the actions critical for lunar landing. For this act alone, you might say that Margaret is just as responsible for the success of Apollo 11 as Neil Armstrong!


October 21, 2017 - No Comments!

Life in Rocket City: Interview with Apollo Engineer, Bill DeCarlis

Bill DeCarlis, standing near his office in the Vehicle Assembly Building, watches the launch of the first Saturn V rocket. November 9, 1967.

In this audio clip, When We Were Apollo producer, John Filson, interviews Apollo engineer, Bill DeCarlis. Bill describes his life as a young man in Cape Canaveral, Florida, working in the Vehicle Assembly Building on the Saturn V rocket that would take astronauts to the moon. From a chance encounter with a space superstar to a middle-of-the-night mission to save the Apollo 8 launch, Bill gives us a glimpse into what it was like to be part of something big and incredible.

Bill's account is part of our larger effort to capture the untold stories of Apollo workers for our upcoming documentary. Our Kickstarter campaign runs through October 31st. Please support it today!

September 18, 2017 - No Comments!

“When We Were Apollo” Kickstarter Campaign Launches 9/26/17!

Dear Friends,

I've recorded a video blog this week because we've got some very exciting news that I wanted to share face-to-face. I'm thrilled to announce that on Tuesday, September 26th, we will officially be launching our Kickstarter campaign for When We Were Apollo!

For those of you unfamiliar with Kickstarter, Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform which allows anyone with an Internet connection to financially back a creative project in exchange for a reward. Over the years, crowdfunding on Kickstarter has brought tens of thousands of projects to life, from films and documentaries to professional art installations to exciting new gadgets and technologies. It truly has become an integral part of the fundraising process for any creative endeavor!

I'm asking if you'll commit today to pledging $1.00 on the first day of our campaign.  One of the things that can really make a difference in crowdfunding is to have great momentum coming right out of the gate. An enthusiastic backer response on day one not only gets us closer to hitting our financial goal; it sends a powerful message to Kickstarter and others thinking about backing When We Were Apollo that our project is one they should support!

"When We Were Apollo" mission patch is free to all our first day backers!

To show our gratitude, we're offering all of our day one backers a free When We Were Apollo mission patch sticker (see above).  This sticker will be available throughout our campaign for $5.00, but we're giving them away absolutely free to everyone that contributes at least $1.00 when the campaign launches on the 26th!

A lot more to come in the days ahead as we get closer to our launch. Things are about to get really, really exciting!

- Zack Weil

September 1, 2017 - No Comments!

The Spirit of Apollo is Alive and Well…in Texas

The Spirit of Apollo is alive and well in Southeast Texas, and in many other places I suspect. It just never ceases to amaze me how our response to natural disasters makes it so apparent. You would think based on the fractured state of our country that a natural disaster as devastating as Harvey would only embolden the tribal impulses tearing us apart. But, far to the contrary, the greater the degree of destruction we suffer, the louder our cries to help one another become–the more connected and responsible to each other we feel.

Growing up in South Florida, I learned quickly about the existential threat of hurricanes. In August of 1992, my community was forever changed when Hurricane Andrew struck with a ferocious force–upending trees, homes, and lives on a scale most people will never see. As the winds died down, I can still remember my first look at its path of destruction–thinking to myself that our lives would never again be the same–that we would never fully recover.

Neighbors Bob Reilly, left, and Jim McGovern embrace among the burned-out remains of their Breezy Point, N.Y., homes on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012.

And, then out of the silence they came. By mid-morning the revs and drones of chainsaws filled the air with a resolve that seemed to chip away at despair itself. These were not hired hands or government employees, but everyday people: private citizens, neighbors, perfect strangers now clearing lawns, driveways and streets one branch at a time because they could–because they saw in themselves an ability to make a difference–because they made a choice to be an active part of something bigger than themselves.

Now, the people of Southeast Texas must begin that same long and trying road to recovery. And if our response to previous natural disasters like Sandy, Katrina or Andrew is any indication of how they will ultimately fair, I have no doubt that their future–however distant and unreachable it may now feel–will ultimately be a brighter, stronger and more hopeful one. Because the same spirit of 'can do' that carried us through previous recovery efforts will also take root.

It’s the same spirit that guided us during the age of Apollo: a spirit that said “we choose to go the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard”–the spirit that believed “failure is not an option”–the spirit that got us to the moon and back. Behind these words and actions is the common understanding that when we work together towards a common goal, even the impossible is within reach.

The sun dawns over Houston in the aftermath of Harvey. Photo credits to @Astro2Fish on Twitter.

If we know the awesome power of this spirit, why then do we reserve it for the worst times alone? Why do we let storms and recovery efforts dictate the emergence of unity and cooperation? History shows that the spirit of Apollo surges in times of tragedy. But we also know of its amazing potential when skies are clear. Like finding a chainsaw and clearing that first path, it begins with a choice. The moment we commit to making this spirit a permanent fixture in our lives rather than a fleeting phantom, the better off we all will be.

August 30, 2017 - No Comments!

An Apollo Museum in Digital Space!

There's an amazing new museum to explore Apollo, and it's all accessible with the click of a button!  Special thanks to Inara Pey for her wonderful story on the LOOT Interactive Apollo Museum.

Given my interest in space exploration, it really shouldn’t come as any surprise that my second Exploring Sansar article focuses on the LOOT Interactive NASA Apollo Museum. However, there is another reason for my doing so: as the Sansar Creator Beta opened, it was – and remains as of the time of writing this piece […]

via Sansar: a voyage to the Moon and back — Inara Pey: Living in a Modem World

August 29, 2017 - No Comments!

When We Were Apollo: Intro Video


Very happy to officially share our intro video for 'When We Were Apollo' with you. "The spirit of Apollo–that belief that we can do the big things regardless of what stands in our way–is still with us. It's our deepest hope with this film and beyond that we will always endeavor to do the big things–especially when times are hard–because they push us to become the best versions of ourselves.

On behalf of our production team, thank you for supporting this film, and for all the ways you embody the spirit of Apollo in your daily life."


Zack Weil, Writer/Director

August 11, 2017 - No Comments!

Our Place In Space

Dear Friends,

Zack suggested I send you this week's letter. I'm very pleased to meet you! I'm extremely excited to be part of the crew for When We Were Apollo.

Sometimes when I'm tangled in the day's to-do list or stressed about an immediate problem, I think about how big space must be if it takes a beam of light billions of years to cross it. The universe completely blows my mind!

I headed up to Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles this week to ask people what they think about space. Picture a long row of cars on a narrow road snaking through the dry desert hills. I crossed the parking lot at the summit and stepped onto the crowded green lawn in front of Griffith's pure white fortress topped with iron domes.

When We Were Apollo Producer, John Filson, at Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

Every kind of person was there, enjoying a scorching summer day and their curiosity for the heavens. Feeling kinda creepy until families realized I only wanted to hear their thoughts about space, I mingled until my bald spot was sunburned. You can watch the video below to see what people had to say.

I missed the moon landing by a decade, but I marvel when I think about how humanity started on this planet with nothing but our body and the dirt; Yet we figured out how to land a human being on the distant moon as it flew across the sky. WHAT?!

Not everyone at Griffith was awestruck. People were candid about more pressing concerns that keep them occupied, from grocery shopping to global poverty. Worries about killing our own planet was a common sentiment. Why spend resources on space exploration when we don't have our own house in order? They have a point.

But there were also plenty of kids, mothers, and friends who think we should always keep exploring the cosmos. It just makes sense. We're here, on our tiny blue marble, and we have the ability to perceive the vastness of space. Not only that, but we can apply the things we learn to improve our life and planet. Why wouldn't we do that?

When We Were Apollo takes us back to the time when putting a man on the moon was the coolest thing around. It's a reminder, as we look after our families and go about the daily business of Earth, that we play a special role in the endless expanse of matter and energy. It's human to be amazed. It's human to forget. All the while nature is here, and we can know it we want. It's distinctly human to decide if we will.

What do YOU think? Please jot us a note in our comments section.

Thank you for reading!

John Filson

August 7, 2017 - 5 comments

A Feeling of Ownership

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mark and David Dodson, brothers, talented filmmakers and space passionistas here in Los Angeles. Their new project, The Landing, tells the story of an ill-fated Apollo mission and its mysterious landing in the desert some forty-five years ago. If you can, I highly recommend trying to see it while it’s on the film festival circuit.

We covered a lot of ground during our nearly three-hour conversation–everything from the early days of spaceflight to recent trends in space privatization. I’ve been thinking about the latter topic a lot since then, and wanted to share some thoughts:

Up until the last decade or so, the space program has been entirely public. NASA’s charter called for the creation of a civilian space agency in the interest of our security and general welfare. And yet, this past decade, we’ve seen a dramatic shift towards the privatization of space: from the use of commercial spacecraft and rockets to bolder plans on behalf of private companies to travel back to the moon and eventually on to Mars.

Buzz Aldrin salutes the American flag.

Buzz Aldrin salutes the American flag: July 20, 1969

I want to be clear that I am not in any way against the idea of either private citizens or companies participating in space exploration. Cooperation between the private and public sectors is what made past achievements like Apollo possible, and I’m completely blown away by the exponential progress companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are making.

That being said, I do think we should spend some more time considering and appreciating the value of a space program that is predominantly public. In his new book, Apollo in the Age of Aquarius, Neil A. Maher poignantly reminds us that because of its direct connection to taxpayer dollars, “NASA was forced to listen and pressured to respond.” Private entities have no comparable pressure points. Untethered from “the halls of government,” there is nothing holding them accountable to our collective wishes and desires.

More important, however, is the value we all gain by the way a public initiative brings us closer together–giving us the opportunity to share in a truly collective experience. As a public entity, when NASA achieves a great milestone like landing on the moon, we take personal pride in it because it is also our success. When a horrible tragedy like the Apollo One fire or Challenger explosion strikes, we feel a direct sense of loss and grief because it is also our failure. And when NASA astronauts reach a new frontier like Mars, they will explore and open up new possibilities for each one of us because they will also be our ambassadors.

Zack prepares to shoot a Kickstarter video for our upcoming campaign.

This intimate and personal connection we feel to space exploration is forged largely by its very existence as a public effort. No more clearly did we learn this invaluable lesson than during the time of Apollo–a project that saw hundreds of thousands of people coming together to push the limits of what was thought possible on behalf of American society.

When we cede space exploration to private enterprise–regardless of how impressive their abilities or noble their intentions–we inadvertently remove ourselves from the equation, distancing space and all of the wonderful discoveries it has in store from the societal bonds that keep us together.

It's for this main reason I ask: how much public ground in space are we willing to give up?–not to dismiss the efforts of visionaries like Musk, Branson and Bezos out of principle–but because I wonder if we will truly feel as personally connected to and as inspired by their accomplishments as we did when we as a people landed on the moon.

What do you think? Share your thoughts with us below.


July 27, 2017 - 1 comment.

The Spirit of Tackling the Impossible

Do you believe doing big things matters? That great strides in science, medicine, engineering and technology are the strongest engines for advancement–not just through their outcomes but in the way they help galvanize our collective spirit?

Vital to these initiatives are large-scale approaches so expansive and complex that only nations and global institutions have the resources to see them through. Project Apollo is the perfect example: an ambitious undertaking so massive it required the combined forces of government, academia and private industry to succeed.

Getting us to the moon and back, Apollo produced hundreds of new technologies along the way. From Velcro to pacemakers, it also left us with a far more precious intangible: that no challenge was too great for the ingenuity and resolve of the human mind and heart.

President Kennedy visits launch complex 34 at Cape Canaveral with Saturn rocket scientist, Werner von Braun

Today, social and political challenges threaten our commitment to doing big things. Rising cynicism and distrust compound institutional decay, encouraging us to believe that bold initiatives are not only unfeasible but unwise. 

If we continue on this course, we will see a gradual slowdown of human progress–a fragmented existence where fear dominates at the expense of the collaboration necessary for world-changing opportunities and solutions to problems that affect us all.

As filmmakers, we aim to counter this trend. When We Were Apollo tells the story of not just what we did to get to the moon, but why we were able to succeed: that getting there was at its core a choice–presented by a president but accepted by everyday Americans who committed in their daily lives to making it happen.

A handful of Project Apollo's unsung heroes standing before the Saturn V moon rocket: a collective dream realized.

When We Were Apollo is part of a long-term commitment to the idea that tackling “impossible” things is vitally important, and a need to strengthen the institutions and attitudes that make advancements like Apollo possible.

It’s important, not for lofty or rhetorical reasons, but because great endeavors like Apollo lead us to become better versions of ourselves: more adept to confront the challenges of our time, more thoughtful and focused on the issues that really matter, more capable of bending history towards a happier and more prosperous existence.  

Making a film is a journey in itself. And we hope to share it with you. Like Apollo did on a much larger scale, we begin by choosing to believe that what we intend to do is possible. The next step is pulling together with others who believe in the mission and why it really matters. Then, we get to work.


July 20, 2017 - No Comments!

When We Were Apollo: It’s Time We Remember

Dear Friends,

It's time. I am so excited to tell you about the launch of our new documentary film project, WHEN WE WERE APOLLO. It's the story of how we came together to put a man on the moon, seen through the eyes of everyday men and women who helped us get there.

Since early 2015, I've run a startup production company called Contact Light Films.  From the get-go, the company's mission has been to share stories about individuals and organizations positively impacting the world around them. Words and great speeches can temporarily inspire, but it's by witnessing those around us taking action that we often decide to take matters into our own hands and make a difference.

When We Were Apollo draws from this understanding. Unlike previous films which focus on astronauts and figureheads to tell the story of the Apollo Program, When We Were Apollo makes a conscious decision to witness the moonshot through the eyes of behind-the-scenes figures who designed, built and managed the systems and machinery that took us there.

Astronauts are inspirational leaders. But their unique experiences and public personas can make it difficult for us to connect with them as film subjects. Shifting the focus to those we may have more in common with makes the massive undertaking of the space program approachable and ultimately more meaningful.

This vantage point also gives us the chance to see firsthand how a 'can-do' spirit of optimism resonated from the bottom up. President Kennedy's call "to go to the moon and do other things" was renewed time and again by the 400,000 men and women of Apollo who, in their daily actions, refused to see it fail. At a time when our country and the world face unprecedented challenges, this overriding spirit is a powerful reminder that our greatest obstacles are still not as strong as our will to overcome them.

The spirit of Apollo was once our spirit, and it can be again.

Today, July 20, 2017, marks the 48th anniversary of the first moon landing–the culmination of a collective effort by the individuals our film will showcase. It is my hope to share their story with you on the landing's historic 50th anniversary. And we want you to be part of the exciting journey ahead. 

I invite you become an active participant on our blog and social media pages, offering your memories, reflections, and big questions; and to help fuel this mission through our upcoming Kickstarter campaign. We will be eager to share our updates and insights along the way, as we work to bring this important story to life.

Most importantly, let us dedicate ourselves to the notion that the best days are still in front of us–that with a renewed commitment to affect positive change in the lives of our families, friends and community, 'everyday' people like you and me can and will help our country and world chart a course back to the 'moon' and beyond.

Best Regards,

Zack Weil