On this day in 1969, American astronaut Neil Armstrong walks on the moon. See Restored Apollo 11 Moonwalk – Original NASA EVA Mission Video – Walking on the Moon:
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A president’s murder. A civil rights leader’s assassination. A seemingly endless war.
This was framework facing America in the months up to the moon landing.
That’s why a former vice president for NBC News said that to understand what the moon landing meant to the American spirit, you have to put that night into context.
Bill Wheatley, a former executive producer for “NBC Nightly News,” said that the nation had just endured a decade of war; we buried the president who envisioned the moon landing just six years earlier.
“All of the networks had space units,” Wheatley said. Live coverage meant radio and TV anchors had to prepare for anything. “Anchors studied up very considerably before every launch in the ’60s. There were manuals and they contained any manner of information.”
He said the networks had compiled such manuals for live political convention coverage going back to the 1950s.
“The manuals included the history of the space program, the mechanics of the mission, the background of the astronauts, bios of the leadership of NASA … There were chapters on telemetry.”
King said the networks each developed a collection of space reporters who became household names. NBC had Jay Barbree and Roy Neal, among others, he said. “Walter Cronkite was the standard-bearer for CBS because he was a huge proponent of space coverage. He went through some space training to show people what it was like.”
Radio networks also employed space teams.
“TV was not as portable as it has become,” [CBS correspondent Peter] King said. “The ’60s was the age of the radio. It was all AM radio in those days. When a million people lined the beaches to watch the Apollo 11 liftoff, they didn’t have portable, battery-powered TVs. They listened to Reid Collins from CBS, Russ Ward for NBC, Mort Crim for ABC Radio.”
Television critic Hank Steuver writes What’s better than a TV shot of Apollo 11? The looks on the faces back home:
BBC America’s “Moon Landing Live,” which premieres Saturday night, is an attempt, somewhat, to rectify that. In addition to replaying live news coverage, as Walter Cronkite and other anchormen collectively hold their breath during tense periods of radio silence between the astronauts and Mission Control, the documentary compiles footage from around the world as people fretted, prayed, marveled and just watched.
People attending a soul music festival in Harlem are asked what they think of the Apollo mission. One man praises it but admits, “I don’t identify to it — as far as science goes and everyone involved in it.” A German news crew asks passing women which of the three Apollo astronauts they’d most like to go dancing with. (“Mit Armstrong, danke,” one lady giggles.) “I’ve not got appropriate words,” a Tokyo businessman tells an interviewer on the street. “The only thing I can say is, ‘Banzai!’ for Apollo 11.”