PBS’s long-running program “American Experience,” produced by WGBH Educational Foundation, just broadcast a new documentary by Amanda Pollak called SPACE MEN. The film tells the story of the “fastest man on earth,” who managed to accelerate on a rocket sled with 9 engines to 46.2 times the pull of gravity, and the man who broke records for the longest parachute jump in history, from 20 miles. Using hot air balloons they conducted science experiments in the troposphere, the area above the stratosphere.

These men were in the Air Force struggling for funding until the earth heard Sputnik’s beep. The space race began and NASA, newly-formed, took over. Using the physical and psychological tests developed by the Air Force pioneers NASA’s Mercury 7 mission, manned by the first astronauts, was a success.

SPACE MEN is supported by the Sloan Foundation, which has been funding science and technology-themed historical documentaries on “American Experience” for over 20 years. The film is written and directed by Amanda Pollak. It features interviews with Captain Joseph Kittinger, engineer Mike Smith, and author Richard Holmes, among others. Archival footage of Time Magazine covers, artist renderings of these space pioneers, and still photographs of the space men emerging from their capsules are interspersed throughout. SPACE MEN premiered on PBS March 1, and is available to stream in its entirety, divided into parts, below.


NPR interviewed Captain Joseph Kittinger, the man who broke the record for the longest parachute jump in history, about the space program.