July 8, 2009

First Moonwalk Launches New Era of Communications

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On July 20, 1969, at 4:17 p.m. EDT, Apollo 11’s lunar module, named "Eagle," landed at the Sea of Tranquility on the surface of the moon.

In accomplishing the unprecedented feat, the crew — commander Neil Armstrong, lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin and command module pilot Michael Collins — fulfilled Apollo 11’s mission: to land men on the moon and return them safely to Earth.

When Armstrong descended the module stairs, taking his historic "small step" as the first human to walk on the moon, he did more than usher in a new age of technological achievement. He helped skyrocket the medium of television into the stratosphere, cementing its place at the core of American life.

Television — which had grown from a laboratory oddity to a dominant news source — wielded power and influence that no other medium could. It brought civil rights battles in the American South to the world’s doorstep and a war in Southeast Asia into American living rooms. Now television was broadcasting lunar images 239,000 miles away into homes on planet Earth. Live coverage of the Apollo 11 mission attracted the largest television audience to that date, estimated at more than 600 million people worldwide.

The world watched Armstrong and Aldrin — who spent 21 hours on the lunar surface — walk, hop, kick moon dust and plant the U.S. flag on lunar soil.

Many consider the moon landing to be one of broadcast news’s greatest moments. CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite’s joyous reaction — "Whew, boy!" — remains one of the most memorable in television history. The satellite technology that made the broadcast possible ultimately would lead to 24-hour news programming.

In a 1999 Newseum public survey of the top 100 stories of the 20th century, the moonwalk was ranked third behind the U.S. dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Cronkite spent 27 hours on the air during CBS’s marathon coverage of the moon landing. He summed up his feelings in a 1996 interview: "It just was so awe-inspiring to actually be able to see the thing through the television. That was a miracle in itself."

An exhibit on the Apollo 11 anniversary is on display in the News Corporation News History Gallery. Vintage news broadcasts of the Apollo 11 moon mission can be viewed on interactive monitors in the Bloomberg Internet, TV and Radio Gallery. A video marking the anniversary is now showing in the Robert H. and Clarice Smith Big Screen Theater.

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