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A space milestone: Three-part documentary ‘Chasing the Moon’ to air on New Mexico PBS

Ed White, the first American to walk in space, on Gemini 4 mission. (Courtesy of the National Aeronautics and Space)

Robert Stone’s life changed forever when he was 10.

It also marked the first time astronauts landed on the moon.

“To go off into another world,” he says. “It had an enormous impact on me.”

Another moment of impact was watching Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” as a teenager.

“The film made me want to be a filmmaker,” he says.

In his latest film project, Stone has put together his two loves – film and space.

“Chasing the Moon,” is a three-part documentary produced for the American Experience history series.

The series captures the essence of the Space Age and casts it for a new generation, using archival and overlooked material, much of which has never been seen before.

“Chasing the Moon” director Robert Stone

Stone says the film features a diverse cast of characters who played key roles in these historic events.

Among those included are astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Frank Borman and Bill Anders; Sergei Khrushchev, son of the former Soviet premier and a leading Soviet rocket engineer; Poppy Northcutt, a 25-year-old “mathematics whiz” who gained worldwide attention as the first woman to serve in the all-male bastion of NASA’s Mission Control; and Ed Dwight, the Air Force pilot selected by the Kennedy administration to train as America’s first black astronaut.

The documentary premieres at 8 p.m. Monday, July 8, on New Mexico PBS.It runs through Wednesday, July 10.

Stone is also humbled about the documentary coming out for the 50th anniversary.

“It’s really touching a nerve with people,” he says. “We are a divided nation right now, and this reminds us of a time when we all came together to do this extraordinary thing. Every American felt that they were part of this accomplishment. The whole world felt it.”

Born in England in 1958, Stone grew up in both Europe and the United States. After graduating with a degree in history from the University of Wisconsin Madison, he moved to New York City in 1983, determined to pursue a career in filmmaking. He gained considerable recognition for his first film, “Radio Bikini,” in 1987, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

From left, Neil Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot. (Courtesy of NASA, 1969)

Stone worked on “Chasing the Moon” for years.

It was one of the first events that TV tried to cover in a longer cycle.

Stone said fitting everything into six hours was challenging.

“It’s a new approach that I’m taking,” he says. “I want the audience to be immersed and witnessing the passion all of the people working on the project had. This long-form piece runs together well to tell this amazing story of perseverance.”

The final cut of the documentary relied on nearly 100 different archival sources.

“I wanted to get my hands on anything I could to help create something people could follow,” he says. “From being open to new discoveries that came along. A lot of times when you make a movie, it doesn’t work out that way. I worked closely with my co-editor, and we would trade off. It started as a two-hour film and then grew.”