TLC Delivers Blast from the Past

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The Learning Channel's Blast Off combines some
striking footage and Hollywood-style computer-generated graphics with a few unsettling
observations to produce a memorable documentary on the perils of the space program --
perils that usually have been glossed over in network-television news coverage of missions
from Apollo to the space station.

Narrated by actor Ed Harris of Apollo 13 and The
Right Stuff
fame, the two-hour documentary (subtitled True Stories from the Final
) retells such well publicized stories as Apollo 13 and the Challenger.

It also tells other tales that are less well known to the
general public, all of them illustrating that being in space isn't as routine as the
public may think it is.

Astronaut Jerry Linenger likens liftoff to being
"inside a volcano."

Harris describes outer space as a "hostile
environment" where danger lurks in the form of "a rock the size of your
fist" or 10,000 man-made pieces of orbiting space trash. They're traveling like
missiles at 18,000 miles per hour, so there's no way to dodge them, he adds.

A spacewalk is the riskiest maneuver, Linenger observes.

In perhaps this show's most chilling moment,
there's a fabricated shot of an astronaut lost in space. Linenger notes that such a
victim would orbit for nine or 10 hours before his oxygen ran out, or suffer a painful
death if his suit were damaged in the searing, cold vacuum of space.

Linenger recounts a disaster that he helped to avert -- a
raging fire that broke out aboard the Soviet Mir space station in 1997, which took 14
minutes to extinguish.

Next up is the International Space Station -- "The
same size as a football field," says astronaut William Shepherd. A computerized
simulation shows what could happen if a rock crashed into it. But, an official stresses,
the station will have debris shields and two crew-return vehicles for emergency escapes.

TLC's special offers close-ups and angles far more
spectacular than what we've seen in news coverage of shuttle and Apollo launches, not
to mention rare footage of a Russian Soyuz rocket exploding at liftoff, as well as great
shots of Earth as seen from spacecraft and from the moon.

Written and directed by Mark Everest, Blast Off was
set to debut onTLC this past Sunday (March 28) at 9 p.m.