When I first struck upon the idea of a podcast telling the story of the 1969 moon landing in real time, and discussed structuring a BBC World Service series around the original NASA audio with my science audio producers-in-crime Andrew and Rami, we never expected that the resulting podcast would be listened to by over six million people.
13 Minutes to the Moon was a huge undertaking. We spent the better part of four weeks travelling round the United States, looking for people who had played a part in the seemingly impossible task of getting someone to the moon and back. Over 400,000 were involved in Project Apollo, but we wanted to tell the stories of those whose names aren’t remembered by history, all framed by the drama of the fraught final 13 minutes of the mission.
Growing up in the 1970s, in the afterglow of Project Apollo, I devoured everything I could find that told those stories: every television programme, every book, every magazine. Later it drove me to pursue science as a career. I studied astrophysics and then medicine at University College London, and later got the chance to work with Nasa at Johnson Space Center as a doctor and visiting researcher. The connections that I built there made 13 Minutes to the Moon possible and inspired me to bring the drama of the mission to life.
We’ve been thrilled by the reception that the podcast has received. It’s won awards such as Best Factual Podcast at the AIB International Media Excellence Awards, and most recently the Audio Entertainment Prize at the prestigious Rose d’Or Gala Awards, which reward excellence in entertainment programming.
This encouraged us to launch a second season, which will tell the story of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, which almost ended in tragedy. The season begins with the ‘six minutes of silence’, when the crew re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere having survived four days in a stricken ship with dwindling power and oxygen supplies.
As the seconds tick by and the world awaits for radio contact to be re-established, mission control begin to fear the worst. It was a pleasure to speak to contributors such as astronauts Fred Haise and the mission commander Jim Lovell, to tell the definitive account of one of the most dramatic space missions of all time.
13 Minutes to the Moon: Season 2 will be available on BBC Sounds from March. It is produced by Andrew Luck-Baker and Rami Tzabar for BBC World Service.
Dr Kevin Fong OBE currently flies as part of a Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) crew in the UK. As a frontline emergency physician, his expertise lies in understanding teamwork, risk management and decision making under extreme pressure. He holds degrees in astrophysics, medicine and engineering, and worked with NASA’s human space flight programme in Houston.