Space Shuttle Endeavour arrives to its final home in Los Angeles, c. 2012 | Courtesy NASA

Back to the Future: A New Space Age Dawns in Southern California

“Back to the Future” explores the decline of the industry in Southern California and its resurgence in recent years.  We hear first-person testimony from Southern California residents who came of age during the Cold War and Space Race.  Multibillion-dollar pollution lawsuits highlight the aviation/aerospace legacy in the region.  In the valley community of Chatsworth, space-related nuclear reactors had been built and in 1959, there was a meltdown several times more powerful than Three Mile Island.  It was kept secret from the public for reasons of “national security” —  a frequent government response to questions posed by the media and residents since the beginning of The Cold War. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, operated by NASA and dedicated to the peaceful exploration of space, launches Pathfinder, the first rover to land on Mars.  The white-male dominated JPL slowly opens its doors to women and all ethnicities.  Miraculously, the industry re-invents itself as the region becomes a hub for “New Space” entrepreneurs — tech billionaires who formed their own space companies.  The series ends with a review of major “Blue Sky Metropolis” projects on the horizon: Virgin Galactic’s sub-orbital flights to the world’s first space tourists; the James Webb Telescope that will allow the study of light and sound waves dating back 13.5 billion years to the birth of the Universe; the building of the next-generation stealth B-21 bomber which will employ more than 10,000 workers.

Get the free PBS App

Full Episodes

Upcoming Airdates

Wings: Aviation Takes Flight in Early Los Angeles

In this episode, the documentary establishes Southern California as the undisputed aviation capital of the world and introduce the industry founders — Jack Northrop, Glenn Martin and Donald Douglas.  Nice weather attracted them but so did a climate friendly to dreamers, risk takers and entrepreneurs.  Amelia Earhart learned to fly here, becoming only the 16th woman in the world to earn a pilot’s license, succeeding in an industry dominated by men.

  • 2020-04-10T04:00:00-07:00

The Big Chill: The Cold War Fuels Business and Anxiety

This episode traces how The Cold War and Pentagon dollars fund the explosive growth of modern Los Angeles.  The end of World War II meant massive unemployment for the millions of workers in Southern California who built the aircraft that helped win the war, but a series of world events changed all that, creating a permanent wartime economy.  First, the Soviets successfully tested an atomic bomb.  Next, Mao Tse-Tung created a second Communist empire with his People’s Republic of China.  Finally, the Korean War marked the first communism/capitalism military showdown

  • 2020-04-10T05:00:00-07:00