I caught "Race to Space" (2001), starring James Woods, on cable and loved it! It is a tale revolving around NASA's first attempt to put a chimp into Earth orbit, told from a child's perspective. It is fictionalized history, no more a documentary than was "Hogan's Heroes." It's a kid coming-of-age film and not meant to be a historical document. It has corny German rocket scientists, an attractive NASA doctor, and a boy who does a wonderful job playing a normal kid in a quite abnormal situation.
One could be silly and point out factual flaws, but what's the point. It is at most a loose retelling of history. But in fact it is a funny little film simply designed to appeal to our emotions and allow us to enjoy the characterizations. With that in mind, it works marvelously. This film places the space program in the fabric of everyday lives, right where it belongs.
James Woods is terrific as the boy's father, an émigré German rocket scientist - who cares how good his German accent is, it is good enough for me! - and Annabeth Gish is very pretty as the animal trainer overseeing the chimps (she has gone on to a marvelous career in episodic television). The supporting cast of William Devane, William Atherton, Barry Corbin and assorted other old pros is perfect. And for once in kid movies, Alex D. Linz manages to avoid being annoying as the precocious child at the center of everything.
This film really makes the beginning of the space race seem cool. The sets and effects are impressive, to me at least, since I like that style of the early '60s. It also says some nice things about acceptance and how to motivate people and turn their lives around. This is a great choice for a nice, feel-good couple of hours.