Saturday, March 7, 2009

Men first walk on the moon

On July 20, 1969, millions of Americans were glued to their televisions as time seemed to slow down. Neil Armstrong’s left boot graced the surface of the moon and he uttered the famous line, “That’s one small step for man… One giant leap for mankind.”

The Los Angeles Times front page the following day screamed Armstrong’s words under the headline “WALK ON MOON.” Complete with photographs of the momentous landing and crewmate Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. joining Armstrong to plant Old Glory, staff writers Marvin Miles and Rudy Abramson present a play-by-play of the night. It seems as if they were trying to transcribe the telecast for those who may have missed it, describing the landscape, other scenes of Armstrong and Aldrin setting up experiments and fellow Apollo 11 member Michael Collins waiting in orbit.

Armstrong and Aldrin are the main sources in the LA Times story and it is assumed that their quotes were taken from the telecast, not actual interviews. There is also a quote from then President Nixon, as he called the men in the “most historic telephone call in all mankind,” and from capsule communicator Charles M. Duke Jr.

On the other coast, the New York Times did not capture the moment quite as succinctly or with the same energy. Their headline on the same day read: “ASTRONAUTS LAND ON PLAIN; COLLECT ROCKS, PLANT FLAG.” Special reporter John Noble Wilford wrote in a style a little more familiar to that seen in stories today. While he also described the event in a fairly chronological fashion, he wrote it as more of an objective report. Halfway through, however, he does let a moment of color shine through in a section titled “Ancient Dream Fulfilled,” calling the landing “the realization of centuries of dreams.”

Most of the quotes again at the beginning are from Armstrong, Aldrin and Nixon, but there are also quotes from Collins, Duke, NASA administrator Dr. Thomas O. Paine and flight director Eugene F. Kranz. This suggests more of the balance that reporters try to show in their range of sources today.

Both papers framed the event in a way that obviously celebrated the accomplishment and reflected the pride felt by Americans everywhere. This was probably even more important at a time when the nation was recently shaken up by the Red Scare. Just as Edward Murrow and the media showed the state of fear the country was in just one decade before, television helped audiences around the nation regain a sense of hope.

This historic event marked not only the first time that man stepped on the moon, but also the first time his fellow Americans showed this much interest in the matter. In a similar way, the recent presidential election of Barack Obama was another night of firsts: our first black president and the first time in a long time that Americans—and the world—tuned in to await the results. A new kind of faith was restored in the same way that Armstrong’s iconic gesture ignited a wave of belief that anything and everything is possible.

"WALK ON MOON" by Marvin Miles; Rudy Abramson Los Angeles Times (1886-Current File); Jul 21, 1969; ProQuest Historical Newspapers Los Angeles Times (1881 - 1986)pg. 1

"ASTRONAUTS LAND ON PLAIN; COLLECT ROCKS, PLANT FLAG" by John Noble Wilford Special to The New York Times New York Times (1857-Current file); Jul 21, 1969; ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2005) pg. 1

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