A new Netflix documentary reveals the stunning story behind SpaceX’s Demo-2

Chronicling the first human spaceflight from American soil in nine years.
Chris Young

On May 30, 2020, SpaceX sent its first crewed mission, Demo-2 on its way to the International Space Station, the first human spaceflight from American soil in nine years.

Now, a new Netflix documentary delves into the behind-the-scenes of SpaceX's historic Demo-2 mission and the ultimate ambition of its maverick founder Elon Musk to make humanity a spacefaring civilization.

The documentary, titled "Return to Space", was directed by Emmy and Academy Award-winning duo Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin who also directed "Free Solo" and "The Rescue". It was added this week, April 7, to Netflix's streaming library.

The documentary might feel a little too much like a SpaceX PR exercise for some — the trailer (below) sets the tone with inspirational quotes from Elon Musk alluding to the excitement of being among the stars. 

SpaceX's achievements are indeed exciting and life-affirming, but "Return to Space's" lengthy running time and relative lack of new insight has drawn criticism from some quarters. The New York Times' Jeannette Catsoulis, for example, says the film "could be easily repurposed as promotional material for Elon Musk’s SpaceX." Wired's reviewer Ramin Skibba argues the documentary's lengthy running time merits more scrutiny over SpaceX's shortcomings — such as concerns over Starlink — but those never materialize.

Demo-2 kickstarted a new era for the space industry

Still, anyone who either wants a recap of SpaceX's magnificent achievements and their ambitious future goals for space exploration or who doesn't know much about Demo-2, could definitely find worse ways to spend two hours on a lazy Sunday — you think two hours is a lot, try watching Peter Jackson's mammoth 'Get Back' Beatles documentary, which clocks in at a total running time of almost eight hours.

Most Popular

SpaceX's Demo-2 mission in 2020 was the first human spaceflight to take off from American soil since the space shuttle Atlantis made its final flight in July 2011. The mission carried veteran astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS where they remained for approximately two months. It was the first crewed reusable spaceflight in history, kickstarting a campaign to send humans back to the Moon and eventually Mars.

Musk's followers will no doubt drink the Kool-Aid when watching "Return to Space". A lot more of the running time could be assigned to scrutinizing the SpaceX CEO's erratic behavior in the past — his penchant for overpromising as evidenced by recent Tesla Full Self-Driving claims would be particularly relevant given his ambitious claims about humanity leaving the cradle of Earth and becoming a spacefaring civilization. Still, it's hard not to be swept up in the romance of SpaceX's recent achievements, especially when seen through the lens of the many engineers and the astronauts that helped to make the historic mission a reality.