Monday, July 20, 2009

That's the Way it Once Was

Just one more space post for now, I promise.

I couldn't let today, July 20, pass without posting this clip, which I saw a few days ago after Walter Cronkite died. This is nearly 10 minutes of CBS's actual coverage of the landing of Apollo 11. I've seen a lot of TV shows, documentaries, and NASA film and photos of the event in the past 40 years, but I don't think I've watched this broadcast itself since 1969. This was what we at home really saw--not the film still aboard Apollo that had yet to be returned and developed.

I hope it's obvious, but feel obligated to emphasize, that all of the spacecraft visuals in this broadcast were models and animations done by CBS to accompany the real-time audio from Apollo 11. Hours later, when Armstrong was preparing to step onto the Moon, he turned on a video camera attached to the side of the lander to broadcast the event live. Those are the ghostly black-and-white transmissions we're used to seeing. Until then, it was essentially a radio show.

Man, this takes me back. It actually brought a tear to my eye. In ways impossible to explain to someone who wasn't there, Cronkite (along with Life magazine) was the public face of the space program. He enjoyed access and credibility no one else had, and Cronkite sitting there with astronaut Wally Schirra is 198-proof nostalgia for me.

I think I remember being confused when the CBS animation didn't match up with the actual audio from Apollo. You'll notice that CBS had a big clock counting down to the lunar landing, and showed their model spacecraft on the surface while we clearly heard Armstrong and Aldrin still descending. CBS jumped the gun. They didn't yet know that Armstrong had taken manual control of the craft when the autopilot appeared to be setting them into a field of boulders, and almost exhausted the Eagle's fuel poking around for a flat spot to land (the voice saying "thirty seconds" is Mission Control telling Armstrong how much fuel he's got left). It's fascinating to hear the chatter about alarms going off in the lander, knowing--again, in retrospect--that the Eagle's computer had overloaded and the mission was nearly aborted (at one point Cronkite alertly asked about an alarm and Schirra quickly dismissed it as unimportant, which was at best a white lie).

I've said before and probably too often that I consider being alive to witness Apollo 11 to be one of the great privileges of my life. A thousand years from now, that's what our time will be remembered for. And I was there. Ha ha, you punk kids!

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WHTTWOT got two recent cites online I want to mention. KaneCitizen, who was kind enough to comment on a recent post here, strongly recommended my book on his "News on the March" blog. And the proprietor of Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff in Concord, Calif., mentioned my book on his shop's Facebook page, calling it his favorite new release of the week--which is wonderful to hear, especially from someone in a position to maybe sell a couple of copies. Thanks to both!


Anonymous said...

All that effort for naught -

Mr Gorsky

Brian Fies said...

Never for naught, Mr. Gorsky! Or at least, not naught yet.

Besides, I heard the moonwalk worked out all right for you and Mrs. Gorsky . . .

Sherwood Harrington said...

My bet is that "Mr. Gorsky" is actually Mike Peterson.

Beyond that, thank you, Brian, for the wonderful link.