Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets last night. It is a fictional — though factually-based — account of a six-year manned mission to all the planets in our Solar System. I thought that the combination of fact and drama might be really cheesy, but it was pretty well done. The facts were somewhat simplified for a popular audience, but it wasn't dumbed down too much. The combination of 'interviews' with the scientists and astronauts involved, and the information on the voice-over worked quite well. The simulations of the landings on the planets, and also the scenes on Pegasus were beautifully done, and did bring the facts about the planets to life. There's a good reason that the cameras mounted on the Viking Mars landers were at human eye height: we find it difficult to understand things unless we see them from our own familiar viewpoint. That's why it's so powerful to see human figures wandering around on a simulated Mars and Venus — it gives you a much better impression of scale. Even the dramatic bits weren't gratuitous because space missions are really dangerous.
I got the impression that some of the quirky details might have come directly from stories told by people involved with space missions. There was one bit where one of the astronauts was talking about a bet they had during G-force training on who would withstand the highest G before fainting. The Russian won, but none of them could understand how he could survive 15 G until they found out he could faint with his eyes open. That had a ring of truth about it.
Of course, it may be that I didn't pick up any of the egregious errors, physical impossibilities or huge generalisations because I'm not a planetary scientist, astronomer or astrophysicist. I tend to be much more critical of documentaries about biology or natural history. Anyway, it was fun and I'm looking forward to the second part next week.