American Moonshot : John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race (9780062655080) by Brinkley Douglas

American Moonshot : John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race (9780062655080) by Brinkley Douglas

Author:Brinkley, Douglas
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: 2019-02-20T16:00:00+00:00

ON A PARALLEL track, TV might have been invented for the use of space explorers. Throughout history, earthly explorers to unknown locales had returned with copious sketches and maps in order to give their sponsors a sense of their new discoveries. Space, however, made it much more of a challenge to answer the perennial question “What’s it like there?” Not even the most advanced space scientists could answer that question before the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957 and began to learn the answers firsthand. Some of the earliest Soviet satellites sent photographic and even television imagery back to Earth, though not in real time. The Americans soon followed, committing to live broadcasts from Cape Canaveral.

For the three major American TV networks, NASA space events offered hours of gripping drama, charismatic personalities, constant action, and stunning visuals. As an added bonus, there were no fees like those they typically paid to broadcast sports and entertainment events—NASA supplied the feeds from space (first audio, later video) for free—though covering blastoffs, touchdowns, and other terrestrial aspects of the flights remained expensive (to lessen the burden, the networks soon formed a pool and cooperated on the NASA video feeds). Another innovation was the taping of NASA’s launch rehearsals, which gave the networks an on-hand supply of riveting action footage.

The use of shared footage put more pressure on the running commentary that would distinguish each broadcaster’s programming. ABC News entrusted its space coverage to the serious-toned Jules Bergman, an eminent journalist from New York City who had been academically trained in scientific reporting. NBC News relied in the late 1950s on Roy Neal, a reporter-producer educated at the University of Pennsylvania. With a longtime interest in rocketry, Neal had been the network’s specialist in the subject since the beginning of the decade; he was also a leader in the effort to arrange pool coverage among the networks. Frank McGee, who learned aerospace jargon technology with enthusiasm, became the Peacock Network’s space anchor once Neal moved into the ranks of broadcast producers. CBS News, for its part, initially entrusted space coverage to Charles von Fremd, a Yale graduate in his thirties. Von Fremd was ambitious, but not as ambitious as his colleague Walter Cronkite, who started covering Mercury missions with Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 flight. Ever since Cronkite had written about the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II for United Press International, befriending flyboys stationed in Great Britain and accompanying a bombing mission over Germany, he’d seized military aviation and space exploration as his special beat.

NASA space exploration was a major story of the early 1960s, but covering it came with a caveat: the anchor at the launches had to have a confident grasp of complex concepts and keep hundreds of facts close at hand. The reward might be tempting (high ratings and association with the space program), but the risk of a career-ending blunder on the airwaves loomed even higher with sharp reporters. Cronkite conquered this difficulty first by making a serious study of space and rocketry.


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