Space Memories

A non-science buff reflects on 50 years of manned space travel...through his own eyes.

When the first man was sent into space in 1961, I was between 4 and 5 years old.

But, like most baby boomers, I have my memories...good and bad...of watching man go into space.

I was in kindergarden in 1962 when John Glenn made the first American orbital flight.  We were herded into a combination auditorium/gymnasium at my elementary school outside Cleveland to watch the lift-off on television. (Back then, all of the national networks...which then consisted of ABC, CBS and NBC...televised launches, returns to earth, and every major event in the flight in between...live).

The first launch I saw in color (in "Living Color on NBC") was in 1965. It was the launch of Gemini 5, and it was on my grandparents' Color TV. We didn't get color in my household until the early 1970's.

I was watching...irony of ironies...Lost In Space...in 1967, when CBS News broke in to announce that three astronauts had died in a training fire, for what was supposed to have been the first flight in the Apollo series. Tragedy aside, the program recovered quickly.

In 1969, when the first moon landing happened, my family was visiting a relative's home in the country. My memory of that was that they had an old, 10-inch Black and White TV from the earliest days of television. Even then, I thought there was an oddity of sorts there. (By the way, it didn't matter whether it was color or black and white TV, the moonwalk that night was transmitted in black and white.)

By the 1970's, space flight was becoming routine. The launches and return to earth were still being shown live (still, among three networks), but the coverage was becoming less and less "event"-oriented.

The same was true with the shuttle launches.  At first, there was live coverage, but, as the decade went on, the coverage was mainly on the evening news. When the Challenger explosion happened in 1986, CNN was the only national news outlet to air the event live. I was editing video (again, ironically, of a funeral) for WTAP when NBC cut into the game show "Scrabble" to announce the disaster. I was on a Saturday morning drive in 2003 when the news broke of the Columbia disaster.  I quickly rushed to the station to do reaction stories for the 6 and 11:00 newscasts.

In a sense, I came full circle in 1998 when John Glenn returned to space on a shuttle flight.  I was covering it from an elementary school in Marietta, where a group of youngsters were watching. (This was one of the few times the networks, both broadcast and cable, aired the launch live.)

My one final memory was in 2006, when I was shopping at a Best Buy store in Lancaster, Ohio, around the time of a shuttle launch.  It was being shown on a high-definition TV...and the video came, not from any news organization, but from a NASA satellite channel...demonstrating what a low-priority this had become for the networks. While watching the launch on crystal-clear HD, I reflected on those early, heady years of the space program when we were all glued to our black and white Magnavoxes, seeing history in the making.

As I write this, the last flight in the shuttle program is set for liftoff Friday morning, July 10.  The jury in the Casey Anthony murder trial is also set to begin deliberations.  If the heavens collide, and the jury reaches its verdict at about the same time of the shuttle launch (which would probably only be shown live on cable), which would you bet the cable news channels would show first?

I know which I would like to see live...for old times sake.

 

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