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The moon landing was a giant leap for movies, too

In 1964, Stanley Kubrick, on the recommendation of the science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, bought a telescope.

“He got this Questar and he attached one of his cameras to it,” remembers Katharina Kubrick, the filmmaker’s stepdaughter. “On a night where there was a lunar eclipse, he dragged us all out onto the balcony and we were able to see the moon like a big rubber ball. I don’t think I’ve seen it as clearly since. He loved that thing. He looked at it all the time.”

Space exploration was then an exciting possibility, but one far from realization. That July, the NASA’s Ranger 7 sent back high-resolution photographs from the moon’s surface. Kubrick and Clarke, convinced the moon was only the start, began to toil on a script together. It would be five years before astronauts landed on the moon, on July 20, 1969. Kubrick took flight sooner. “2001: A Space Odyssey” opened in theaters April 3, 1968.

The space race was always going to be won by filmmakers and science-fiction writers. Jules Verne penned “From the Earth to the Moon” in 1865, prophesying three U.S. astronauts rocketing from Florida to the moon. George Melies’ 1902 silent classic “A Trip to the Moon” had a rocket ship landing in the eye of the man in the moon. “Destination Moon,” based on Robert Heinlein’s tale, got there in 1950, and won an Oscar for special effects. Three years before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the lunar surface, “Star Trek” began airing.

It’s no wonder that the moon landing seemed like the stuff of movies. Some conspiracy theorists claimed it was one: another Kubrick production. But the truth of the landing was intertwined with cinema.

Audio recordings from Mission Control during Apollo 11 capture flight controllers talking about “2001.”

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