This summer is the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. To help celebrate, American Experience will be running a three-part episode, called “Chasing the Moon”. The three-part, six-hour series on Rocky Mountain PBS recasts the Space Age as a fascinating stew of scientific innovation, political calculation, media spectacle, visionary impulses and personal drama. Please join us at the Avalon on June 20 at 5:30 pm, for Rocky Mountain PBS’s screening of American Experience: Chasing the Moon, sponsored by Chevron. Make sure to check out rmpbs.org/chasingthemoon for a full schedule of events that our wonderful partners are putting on during the week of June 14 to June 21.
In July 1969, crowds flooded Cocoa Beach in anticipation of the most historic of launches. Camped out along the beach and gathered in cars, spectators endured the blistering heat in anticipation. At the same time, civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy lead a peaceful protest, criticizing the priorities of the federal government. NASA administrator Thomas Payne received them warmly, noting, “We would like to see you hitch your wagons to our rockets” in making their concerns heard by a national audience. Payne invited Abernathy to the launch site, and the protesters joined the thousands of Americans gathered to see the Saturn V launch Apollo 11 into the atmosphere.
On July 20, 1969, the biggest television audience in world history tuned in to watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon’s surface. The relationship between the press, Hollywood, and NASA reached its zenith as broadcasters attempted to produce the first truly global live television experience of the landing.
Though these first stages of the landing couldn’t be seen live on earth, the Apollo 11crew proceeded with the difficult undocking and landing maneuvers that should place them safely on the lunar surface. Audiences watched simulations and listened to audio coverage with bated breath as Armstrong delicately maneuvered the lunar module only to discover the landing site was in fact a football-field sized crater, forcing Armstrong to hover the craft and look for a new site with a mere thirty seconds of fuel. At last, audiences heard the triumphant words, “the Eagle has landed.” Mission Control responded, “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue –we’re breathing again.