Monday, 21 December 2009

Apollo 8 - the mission that really captured the world's attention

1968 was a horrible year for the US - riots, assassinations and a sense of almost total despair over Vietnam. But one decision 'saved' the year: the decision by NASA's George Low to make Apollo 8 a moon mission. It was a high risk strategy - man hadn't yet left earth's orbit, and the crew of Borman, Lovell and Anders would be heading for lunar orbit without any kind of lifeboat in space since the lunar module was not yet ready for space.

Apollo 8 took off 41 years ago today. The world really woke up to the final stages of the US race for the moon when the crew sent back their first pictures of the earth - a small shining bauble hanging in the vast blackness of space.

And in a way that simply wouldn't be countenanced in today's PC world, the three crew members struck exactly the right note of awe and wonder as they read the opening verses of the Bible's Book of Genesis in a Christmas Eve Broadcast as they orbited the moon.

The television broadcast gained, at the time, the highest global viewing figure in TV history. The space race was finally a global event: a world united in wonder.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Posting on poster posting

So yesterday was our first internal poster conference: a chance to present our research - or plan for research - to our peers and some of the academics in Brunel's school of social science. My supervisor dropped by and laughed: he then came back with my second supervisor and they had a giggle together...about my poster, about my colleague who's researching American dynastic politics' poster and about the whole session in general. Their general view was that this was a most odd way of presenting a political/historical topic. Oh well.

Meanwhile a psychologist and an 'unknown' academic assessed my poster (one section of it is up above) and the feedback was reasonable. The one thing missing was some academic references grounding my work - I'll know for next time.
The other students were interested - even if what I'm doing is seen as a bit niche and geeky - and I was interested to check out both how other people presented their work and the subjects they are researching. We're an eclectic bunch with everything from post-civil-war Sierra Leone through the economics of the Gulf to the politics of the Native American nation.
On the downside, the room was too small, too hot and too crowded - PhD stuff was all mixed up with MRes posters and for a while, confusion reigned. Still, it was quite fun to do.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Do we become PhDs in spite of the system or because of it?

I'm two months into my PhD, and now beginning to get some focus in what I'm doing. My research questions are beginning to solidify; I'm beginning to get around some of the best secondary sources, and have a better handle on the primary source people and material I'd like to explore.

I'm writing this from my shared research office at Brunel - where I'm sat on my own having popped in between work engagements this Friday lunchtime. The office is in portakabin building. it has four desks, four PCs, one phone, some lockers and a bookcase. It's basic, even spartan, but actually does the job. Six of us are assigned to this four-person space, but only three of us seem to use it with any regularity. So far, so good.

But, coming into this new venture with 20 years + work experience behind me, I'm finding there are a number of frustrations in the way that the School of Social Science is set up to 'welcome' and support PhD students.

For one thing, had I not asked about this office, I wouldn't have known of its existence. I've also had to ask about printing, about security and getting the room's access code changed (after some source material went missing from my desk) about access hours, pigeon holes and a plethora of other little details that I would have missed had i not been a bit nosy, a bit bolshie and perhaps more aware of what we should be getting than my younger or international colleagues.

What's apparent is that the School runs to the tune of the technicians - the academics are scared of them and the service ethic to students and staff alike is virtually non-existent. We have a byzantine printing process that means it costs far too much to print anything here - and the turnaround service is three days! They're also the masters of 'elf and safety' and managed to turn my missing personal papers into a fire risk issue - madness.

The other unexpected issue this term has been a Research Skills module that has taken up one evening each week so far. In theory it is a really good idea, and in practice has brought together an esoteric blend of researchers who have probably gained most from the informal networking that goes on outside the class. We range from Economics & Finance through Anthropology, Social communications and Psychology to Politics and History. As a historian, I feel like an outrider, cut away from the school's mainstream. however, I've really felt for the course leader, a really nice guy who has struggled to meet out wide-ranging and very varied needs. Frankly, the module has failed to satisfy anyone.

Inside, we've had a few half-hearted lectures on time management, poster conferences, critical analysis and quantitative techniques, but each MRes and PhD class member has also had to present their own research - or planned research in most cases. A few have been great - interesting topics well presented. But the majority have been droning voices, reading slides crammed with far too much information. The quality of presentation has been poor, and the tutor has done little to stop speakers droning on and on to the point of half the class walking out.

Anyway, next week sees the final class - an internal Poster Conference. I'm quite looking forward to it - but am also looking forward to parking the taught element and getting on with my research proper.
The best thing to come out of the last eight weeks? Meeting and making friends with some of my fellow PhD researchers - they're a really nice and scarily bright bunch. There'll be no slacking here if i even hope to keep up.

I'm still swallowing books whole by the way - the latest being Michael Allen's 'Live From the Moon' - not the best academic history book I've read, but an accessible narrative of the Cold War Sputnik-Apollo space programmes. I was worried at first that it would fill the space where my research sits. But it's complementary, and I'll certainly use elements of it.

Friday, 27 November 2009

A Distinct improvement

I haven't blogged much recently as I've been trying to get my head round the step up from MA to PhD level - I have some thoughts on that, but will share them later.

However, yesterday was a pretty momentous day. It was my daughter's 16th birthday, a busy working day and I was also sending Thanksgiving greetings to a number of American friends and colleagues. I'd forgotten that my MA result was due, and only realised when I got an email from my course administrator advising me to look at Brunel's online student portal.

I logged on and found out I'd got my MA - with Distinction. It's the highest award and was actually far better than I steeled myself to expect. I must say that I shouted out loud and punched the air, and was buzzing through my later meetings and my evening research seminar at Brunel.

My supervisor brought me back to earth: 'a distinction at MA is worth nothing to the PhD assessors', he said. 'No time to rest on your laurels,' added my research office roomie.

Today, a bottle of champagne later, my head's thumping a bit. But my grin's still wide.

Monday, 26 October 2009

This week's reading

Still in that funny period where my Masters dissertation is being marked...which puts a bit of a brake on the PhD work since one of the markers is my PhD tutor. So our current contact is minimal...err, non-existent.

However, there's plenty I can be getting on with and much of that concerns reading. I'm fascinated by Eisenhower at the moment and am having a proper read of Stephen Ambrose's biography. So far I'm still in WW2 and the read is entertaining rather than overly enlightening. Ambrose is at his best when on 'Band of Brothers' territory. The first 50 years of Ike's life has been covered in a rapid gloss and I'm somehow missing the analysis of how an extremely competent staff officer morphed into Supreme Commander in two years - and was to be President just a decade later. Anyway, still 300 pages to go!

Alongside Eisenhower, I'm also reading the rest of Murray & Bly Cox's: Apollo: The Race to the Moon.

Mission Control's Sy Liebergot told me that this was his peers' favourite account of the US space programme and I can understand why. It's an energetic account that focuses on the engineers and specialists who delivered the programme rather than the up-front astronaut tale. It's an excellent back-office account and is filling in a number of gaps in my understanding of the programme. Still a couple of hundred pages to go on this one too!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Day by day it's becoming more real

So I'm now officially a PhD research student and those carefree days of slaving over a Masters dissertation are nought but a memory. Still, I'm not exactly progressing the new research at a rate of knots.

The first few weeks have been all about making the transition from taught student to research student. I now have a shared office at Brunel with a desk, bookshelves and a quarter share in a phone. I've just been on a two-day Early Stage Research Module, and have given my first presentation on my work to fellow PhD students as part of a research skills module that's compulsory for newbies like me.

That was quite an experience: I was the only historian in the room, faced by economists, political scientists, psychologists and a scary number of social anthropologists. I'm not sure they 'get' my research any more than I get what they're up to. Still, it was a fun half-hour.

I've had a meeting with my secondary supervisor but not my main one: I think we're avoiding each other until he has finished marking my Masters disso. Until then, I'm scoping and trying to build a network of researchers interested in the conjunction of the media and the space race since this year's planned work builds directly on what I started with the Masters. Already I feel that I only scratched the surface with that piece - but I have no indication yet whether it was a good or bad scratch. Certainly every day since the disso went in I've uncovered something new. I'm kicking myself that so many things didn't make the final draft, and feeling that I got too hung up on the superficial. Anyway, time will tell.

Monday, 28 September 2009

It's all in the little details....

I went up to Staples first thing this morning to get the disso printed and bound - it all came out well and looks good.....apart from the fact I've put the wrong student number on the front. One digit's wrong and I've had to correct it with a big fat pen. Stupid I know, but with 16000+ words to worry about, I simply had a mindblock about my student id number....and managed to get it wrong.

Anyway, I'm off to Brunel over lunch to get the darned thing delivered.....two days inside the deadline!

Friday, 25 September 2009

It's done

All 57 pages, 16,214 words plus abstract and bibliography....

Time for a read-through this weekend, just to make sure, printing on Monday and then delivery to Brunel on Tuesday. It's definitely a weight off my shoulders. And I get all of a week's break before it's PhD induction day!

Monday, 21 September 2009

Disso nearly done

Just two tasks still to do on the main body of the disso - add in some 'colour' from Life's coverage of John Glenn's Friendship 7 flight, and then cut about 750 words from the whole piece. It all has come together, and now I've just got to be brutal on the editing, cutting out all the nice to know rather than necessary to know stuff. There's a week to go on this, then a week off, and then straight into my new PhD work.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Off to the Cape

Well, still no funding for the PhD, and a significant rewrite to be done on the disso, but I'm feeling positive!

I've decided to take up the PhD place and beg, steal and borrow my way through year 1 with the aim of attracting at least enough funding to cover my research trips. Hopefully i can write around the PhD commercially, and while it won't pull in much money, it may open a few doors that otherwise might remain closed. Anyway, that's the plan.

On the disso front, today was a bit of an epiphany and I'm moving from chronicler to prosecutor - presenting my thesis more of an evidenced case than the holistic story of 57-62. The premise remains the same: Eisenhower was bullied into a space race with the Soviets by an unexpectedly antagonistic media. Khrushchev exploited public/media unease and consistently raised the stakes as a means to enhance his personal prestige and that of the USSR in the eyes of the world. When forced into action, Eisenhower made a shrewd move, establishing NASA as a civilian agency beyond the control of any of the armed services. The turnaround in the media's perception of Eisenhower as a space race warrior was marked. In '57, Khrushchev was Newsweek's Man of the Year. In '59, it was Ike. Kennedy fought his way into the White House playing the missile gap card, but was actually ambivalent towards any race in space. Expediency, particularly the need to react to both the Bay of Pigs and Gagarin, underpinned the May 1961 'pledge' which still didn't really set the public on fire until John Glenn's Friendship Seven successfully put the United States in manned orbit. That public fire was stoked by a pincer movement of Washington rhetoric and NASA-endorsed Life whitewash which jointly created the 'Right Stuff' heroes that continued the Lewis and Clark frontier narrative into the technological white heat of the 1960s. From being the spiky prompter of US space action, the media became the drum-beater for the New Frontier, sadly lacking in sufficiently tough questioning around NASA's aims and startlingly limited goal.

Anyway, I'm off to the US and should hit Cape Canaveral next week, setting foot on the old Mercury stamping ground for the first time since 1979. I've been to the Kennedy Space Center since, but not out to the old military ranges and launch areas since my very first trip to Florida. I'm looking forward to making the reacquaintance.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Uncomfortably numb

Okay, about 28 hours ago, the bottom dropped out of my academic world...or so it seemed.

Checking in to see how my scholarship application was progressing, I found out that I'd made the first cut - from 200+ applications to 87 nominated by the various Brunel Academic Schools...but hadn't made the final 30 granted awards. Frankly, I was gutted.

I have a PhD place open to me, but currently no funding to enable me to pay the fees or carry out the research. And, because mine was a late application, I also won't be able to apply for any external funding from the mainstream sources until Spring 2010.

So, I've got the option of funding myself this year - something that will be very tough, or deferring for a year...which I really don't want to do.

I'd almost certainly invested too much hope in the scholarship application (only 1 in 6 are successful), and Brunel are still very keen for me to start in September. But yesterday i was utterly crestfallen. To just get started, I need to raise £3.5k by next month - not easy in the current recession. I'm at a bit of a loss at the moment, but am just starting out thinking how I can make this happen.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Refining...and still fingers crossed

Finished the first draft of the disso at the start of the week. At 16798 words, it's 5-10% too long - and a bit rough in the middle. I've had feedback on one key chapter though, and it was reasonably positive - though apparently my concluding statements were a bit too abrupt. So, focus for the next week - work permitting - will be to trim the opening piece and beef up the end.

Still waiting for news on my scholarship - it could still be three weeks before anything definitive. Still, now editing on the disso rather than new research, so it should be a quicker process.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

40 Years Ago Today

Buzz Aldrin's all over the media, Mike C and Neil A are nowhere to be seen...pretty much summing up the respective chosen profiles of the three Apollo X1 Astronauts on the 40th anniversary of their launch from Cape Canaveral. No doubt all three will feature in a few days' time as the actual moon landing is celebrated - and then I'm sure that Collins and Armstrong will fade swiftly out of the limelight again.

Meanwhile, the disso draft has passed 11,000 words - with great input from Jim Baughman , Reg Turnill and Kris Stoever. I hope to have a draft completed by the other side of the weekend. Somehow the timing seems fitting. But for now, it's back to McDougall for me and the events of summer 1958...

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Ike unspun was closer to the truth. But JFK had a better finger on the pulse

More than 8,000 words into the disso now, and what's emerging is a distinct difference in Ike and JFK's approach to the media over space.

When Sputnik launched, Ike was calmness itself - dismissive of the media's rabble-rousing since he knew that Khrushchev's propaganda attack was largely smoke and mirrors. But he misjudged the near-hysteria the satellite caused, and was forced to react to head off a media baying for massive defence spending.

JFK was pro-active in his use of the media, using his gift for rhetoric to fight back from the Bay of Pigs and Gagarin's flight with a big message built on little substance. JFK provided the content whereas Ike had failed to fill the vacuum. Back in 1957, the media had kicked off a space race that need never have existed. By 1961, Kennedy was using that race as a cornerstone of his foreign policy: driving hard at a new frontier beyond earth's atmosphere.

Monday, 29 June 2009

A very classy brush off

With my PhD place confirmed but funding not yet in place, I'm still in the phony war where I'm doing the work, but not yet assured the money will be there to see it through the full three years.

This early stage of research is all about approaching people who were a part of the space race and seeing if they'll be willing to share their side of the story. A couple of weeks ago I approached Senator John Glenn and received this very elegant response. Not really what I wanted to hear...but a very classy brush-off none the less.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Good news...

...on the Masters front. Confirmation of my module grades - 4 As, a B and a C mean I'm just about there for my MA. What the final grade will be is still dependent on the disso - and this week's focus is John Glenn's Friendship 7 flight - to my analysis, the point where Kennedy's rhetoric, NASA's expectation and public opinion finally aligned behind the US Manned Spaceflight program to reach the moon.
Picture sourced from the NASA library

Monday, 15 June 2009

And today's reading list includes....

There have been a few thumps on the hall mat in the last couple of days as Ambrose's biography of Nixon (part 1), Dallek's work on Kennedy and 'Dr. Space' - a biography of Werner Von Braun have all arrived from their respective second hand book sellers.

The political biogs will yield some useful reference material, and my plan's to 'dip into' them as necessary. But I've decided to read the Von Braun book in its entirely this week - and am now about 20% of the way through. It's not that long, but uses a VERY small typeface which makes it more daunting than it might appear.

I also had a great email from Scott Carpenter's daughter, Kris Stoever, over the weekend. She's a writer and editor who co-wrote her father's autobiography a few years ago. It's really nice to be challenged on parts of my hypothesis by someone steeped in both the myth and reality of the space race. I hope to be able to correspond more with Ms. Stoever in the future.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Changes, progress, focus

About 2,500 words of the disso have now been committed to paper in a week that has seen the scaling down of one project and the scaling up of another.

It's only when you get cracking on a project that the size of the elephant really becomes clear - that's been the case with the disso. Trying to find a way to analyse the impact of the media on the race to the moon in 15,000 words without it being so shallow as to be valueless has proved a problem but one that, with my tutor, I've overcome by scaling back the time period of the disso.

Now I'm focusing the disso on the media's role as both catalyst and fuel to the beginnings of the space race really from the pre-Sputnik period to Kennedy's 1961 speech to Congress. My dissertation epiphany occureed last Friday afternoon in a tutorial at Brunel where I was explaining how I was struggling to find a structure to compress the wealth of material I wanted to cover into an MA disso structure. My tutor cut through my floundering by suggesting I focus on just one bite of the elephant for the MA, and segue straight into a PhD to properly cover the project in full.

Now I've planned on doing the PhD for about a year, but actually had planned on getting the MA over and done with and then applying to start on the PhD in 2010. My tutor's comment: 'Why wait? All the people you need to see will be a year nearer death if you don't start work for another 15 months.'..... Good logic.

So, after a frantic weekend of turning many discussions into a formal research proposal, I've actually taken my original Masters disso thoughts and expanded them slightly to fulfil the criteria for an application for formal, funded, PhD research. It feels like a big step forward, and certainly helped get my brain in gear this morning as I pulled the first one sixth of my disso draft together.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Paul Haney RIP

How strange that I should think about Paul Haney and how to get in touch with him on the day he died.

I knew he was fighting cancer and had assumed that was the reason he hadn't got back to me after our initial telephone call. I didn't realise he was quite so ill.

So, the Apollo circle gets a little smaller still. I'm sad I never got to conclude my conversation properly Paul and properly revisit his time working with ITN. Anyway, I wish him well on his next journey.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Paul Haney

Looking at who's clicked through to the site, I noticed it came up in a search for NASA's Public Affairs launch announcer, Paul Haney. I approached Paul via his local space museum in Mew Mexico and initially got a positive response, but haven't yet been able to pin down a second conversation with him.

In fact, I now have a few outstanding enquiries that need following up - so that's the plan for the next few days - I'll be bumping those e-mails sent to Lola Morrow (and, I hope Jay Barbree), Paul Haney and Reg Turnhill - all of whom will add significant insight to the piece.

It's good to be writing about the Apollo era as the 40th anniversary approaches since interest levels are high. But that has a flip-side too in that many involved are in great demand.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

This week's reading... an intriguing account of an astronaut who wasn't. Brian O'Leary joined the program in the late '60s as a scientist astronaut, but as Apollo wound down and the follow-ups: Skylab and the long-off Shuttle slowly hove into view, he decided he didn't need NASA, and perhaps the space Administration didn't need him.

The book was written in the early 70s, so I'm looking forward to picking up this near contemporary perspective.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

My Apollo position

Having stated my disso hypothesis, I've had some feedback that in stating that the space race was a media construct, it makes it look as though I'm dissing or downgrading the efforts of all those who took part in getting America to the moon. Far from it. I believe the decade from 1961 was probably the most productive in American life in the way it melded the efforts of industry, research and academia to deliver the century's iconic event.

The Apollo programme - at least after the Apollo 1 tragedy - was an unparalleled triumph in engineering, technological and human endeavour. It essentially created today's project management systems and delivered huge technological advances that are still being felt 40 years later.

The astronauts showed immense bravery, skill and alpha + achievement, and so did so many of the 400,000 people whose work fulfilled Kennedy's aspiration.

However, there was a huge failure in the programme for me and that was that it was so focused on an event. The moon landing should have been a milestone in a far greater process. Instead it became an end in itself, not a means to opening up the heavens. The media is much to blame in defining that 'end'.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Happy Monday

Hypothesis has gone down well - though it may take a full PhD project to work through it properly. So for the disso I need to decide whether to look at one element - how the space race became a race for instance, or, my preference, how to tackle the whole elephant in pieces that won't be so bite-sized as to be meaningless. So, I need to work on the structure this week.

The other good part of this morning is to hear back from Lola Morrow, 'Den Mother' to the astronauts from 62-69. I'm very much looking forward to her insight into life at the Cape. I've pinched this picture from where she's pictured with Gene Cernan and Bill Anders

Friday, 15 May 2009

Grounding my hypothesis

The scales are just about beginning to fall away from my eyes in terms of what a disso is all about. I've spent the last couple of weeks thinking about the structure and form of the piece - approaching it, unsurprisingly, in a rather journalistic way, rather than engaging with what my hypothesis actually is.

So, while I've always had said hypothesis running around my head, my tutor has advised getting it down on paper...and the structure's more likely to run from the conclusion backwards than to flow from the germ of an idea forwards.

So, here's where I stand:

The Space Race was a media construct. The prestige of the United States was materially damaged by the failure to put the first satellite in space. While Eisenhower was comfortable for the Soviets to be the first nation in space, and had no plans to create a 'race', public perception, fanned by radio broadcasts and printed media was very different, and worked against Eisenhower and his chosen stance.

Khrushchev exploited America's slow start in rocket and satellite development, propagandising the Soviet space programme as a means of creating a false impression of the relative power of the Superpowers. In the US, Johnson, first through his position in Congress and then as VP to Kennedy grabbed the space mantle and politicised NASA's efforts as a weapon to fight back against he Soviet threat to US power. He, through lobbying from Werner Von Braun, prompted Kennedy's '61 speech to Congress which put the moon landing as the centre piece (and perception-wise, end point) to the space race, since even in '61, there was sufficient evidence to suggest the was a race that only the US could win.

While NASA was the enabler for Armstrong et al to reach the moon, it was also the victim of an implicit political/media alliance that was focused solely on beating the Soviets by reaching the moon and thus ensuring US prestige was restored. This was an end-game, and further space exploration was not in the reckoning. So, NASA’s campaign to market the Apollo program as a world endeavour ('for all mankind') focused on uniting science and technology in the pursuit of discovery paradoxically created a dynamic that brought the premature termination of the program. Laudable in its aims, its actual efforts were focused on creating a means to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth, and that was the expectation created through NASA's own communication machine and fanned by a compliant media. The goal was limited. Only far too late in the day (when governmental money was being diverted elsewhere) did NASA wake up to the fact that their goal was tactical, and that there was no grand strategy for opening the heavens (as Von Braun had envisaged), and no saleable vision to engage a sceptical media and increasingly disinterested public.

This mistake was a consequence of tunnel vision that could not see beyond a moon landing and a failure in NASA's own communication that saw it excellent in its ability to respond to the needs of the media, which grew increasingly news-hungry through the '60s, but abject in its ability to set the agenda for true space exploration. This was largely down to:

  • A limited appetite for space exploration from 1966 onwards resulting in lukewarm support among the political classes

  • A single-objective program that was an end in itself rather than a means to a greater end

  • A media increasingly focused on the new and the different (not on repeats of what had been done before)

  • Weak leadership in NASA (especially post-Webb)

  • A communication culture that was inward looking, focused on engineering achievement rather than presenting an inspiring vision

  • Risk-averse, unchallenging and skill-limited communications personnel within NASA.

The result was a cul de sac - from which NASA has never truly escaped subsequently. The media created the race, then ultimately turned upon itself and ate the edifice it had created.

That's where I am now, but likely more thoughts as I ponder on this in days to come.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Back down to earth

....And after 8 straight A grades...a C on my last Masters essay. Well that's brought me back down to earth, though the overall module grade is a B. Still, serves me right for getting cocky - I've achieved nothing yet.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Finding focus

Bit of a change of tack on the disso. Following feedback from my supervisor, I'm changing from what's basically a chronological structure to a thematic structure.....probably essential to get all I want to say down into 15,000 words with the right analytical vigour.

Still nailing down the 'themes' to group the analysis around, but it'll be something like:

  • prestige (beating the Soviets)
  • adventure (romanticism/frontier spirit)
  • discovery (engineering v science)
  • ....and there's something around politics/expediency and possibly legacy that I haven't quite bottomed out yet.

In all cases I still want to analyse the impact of NASA's manipulation of the media...and indeed the media's independent response to NASA and whether the tail in fact began to wag the dog even before the moon goal was reached.

I really want to nail the structure this week and start drafting (even skeleton drafting) over the next fortnight.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Today's reading...and viewing

The disso challenge is to read and/or view relevant material for an hour a day, with a view to having at least one chapter - and possibly two - drafted by the end of the month.

The outline for the disso - as it stands and subject to revision - is:

Introduction – Before this decade is out

• The context for Kennedy’s speech, briefly covering the early space race
history and how the media had largely been responsible for creating a ‘space
race’ where Eisenhower clearly believed one did not, nor need not, exist.
• Media and the heroic myth – how the likes of ‘Life Magazine’ created an all
new breed of American superhero before any American rocket had cleared the
• How and why Kennedy reached for the moon - Johnson’s role in envisaging
Apollo, and how Khrushchev, Korolev and Gagarin upped the stakes

Superpower aspirations – God speed John Glenn, and Leonov’s expanding suit

• Why the space race mattered
• How Johnson countered Khrushchev’s smoke and mirrors
• The polls and reaction at home
• The press and reaction abroad

Deviations on the road – Apollo 1 and the Soyuz disasters

• NASA and Public Affairs
• Coping with disaster
• Open v closed communication

Space in the televisual age – We come in peace for all mankind

• How television brought the moon closer
• Creating global wonder
• Projecting soft power through scientific logic and soothing words

Budgets, battles and pork belly politics – why the Moon fell out of favour

• The Vietnam effect and the domestic perils of ‘68
• Falling polls
• Apollo 13 and the uniting effect of disaster
• America v the media – the differing impact post Apollo 11 around the world.

Conclusions - only in America, only at this time

• Why the Apollo effect dissipated so quickly
• The dislocation of power – NASA and a mature media
• Could it ever happen again?

It makes sense to start at the beginning, so at 8am today I was watching 'Ordinary Supermen' from Discovery's NASA's Greatest Missions - When we left Earth series, and I've also been reading the opening chapters of Robert Divine's The Sputnik Challenge which is a pretty good read for what's essentially an academic history.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Charlie Duke: what a nice guy

So, yesterday evening saw me in Birmingham at about 6pm, and for the first, and very possibly only, time in my life, I got to sink a pint with a man who has walked on the moon.

Charlie Duke looked fairly fatigued after two days of autograph signing and posing for pictures with collectors, traders and fans and admitted to having had very little sleep over the previous two days.

But, instead of winding down after his pretty relentless personal appearances, he gave up a whole hour to me once the show had ended to talk about the politics and media interest that surrounded not just his Apollo 16 flight, but the whole programme. He was charming, friendly and ever so patient, since I hardly think my line of questioning was revolutionary and it definitely took me a while to get into my stride, though our pints of Stella Artois certainly helped. He was even prepared to talk on long after my recording device was full (ironically I was using 80s technology to talk to a man in his 70s about events that spanned the 60s!).

Did much new emerge? Probably not (certainly not for him!) Do I have ammunition to use in the disso? Definitely - some great quotes and one or two unexpected opinions. Was it worth the 150 mile round-trip on a Sunday evening. Most definitely. Did I miss out not going to the autograph show? No, No, No.

...And did I get an autograph? Well, it was most certainly not appropriate to whip out a camera or open my many Apollo books for the Duke pen. But I thought it was the right thing to ask Charlie to initial my email trail to authenticate our meeting. But he's a really nice guy and went further than that (see above) writing: 'To Mark - All the best on your thesis. Aim high, Charlie Duke.

Today, I'm aiming higher!

Friday, 17 April 2009

Good news - but the going's getting tough

Good news on several fronts this week. First, my penultimate Masters essay gained an A grade. But what really had me smiling all day yesterday was a note from Apollo 16's Charlie Duke saying he's happy to meet up over the weekend to answert my research questions.

We haven't quite pinned down when and where yet - and I know his autograph show commitments will have to come first - so I won't be fully happy until we actually sit down over a coffee and discuss the impact the media had on his NASA career. Anyway, it was great to hear from him. The PhD dream is now beginning to solidify just a little bit more.

However, there are many hurdles to traverse before there's anything concrete about that, and the hard work's now really emerging, using the Masrters Disso as the basis of my research plan. There's considerable cross-over, but I can't dilute either part of my summer's work, as focusing too much on PhD prep will could have a negative impact on the Masters disso and vice versa.

I suppose it's all a question of balance.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Turning to face the moon

Once my PC comes back from hospital where it's in the midst of a processor and mother board transplant - having fried the present incumbents - I'll be bashing out my last ever Brunel essay before the disso research really kicks in.

My research outline is now complete although it's not due 'til May. And before then i hope to get at least one or two more interviews in the bag and also relink in with some of the guys who were really helpful last summer - the likes of Asif Siddiqi and Roger Launius.

I'm hoping, probably against hope, that I can catch up, at least by phone with Apollo 16's Charlie Duke who's in the UK for an autograph show this weekend. I'm sure these shows please a lot of people, but they're hopeless for anyone planning a research conversation and the organisers are seemingly less than willing to help anyone - however legitimate their request - unless we're prepared to part with the readies.....readies I haven't got.

Oh well, here's hoping.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Edging forward - and to what?

Okay - I'm blowing my own trumpet. I've had 7 A grades in a row for my MA assignments and I'm feeling pretty good.

At the moment, they mean nothing - or at least they mean three A graded modules - but I've got a C as well, and I'm still two essays and an exam from completing the other two.

However, if I even get reasonable marks in my last three pieces of course/exam work it'll set the bar even higher for the disso. So the pressure's on - but that's good.

Monday, 23 February 2009

My interview with Walt Cunningham features in the March 2009 issue of Spaceflight published by the British Interplanetary Society.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Serious stuff...

The disso's on hold at the moment as the sharp end of this term's taught modules kicks in. In the coming six weeks or so, I have to produce:

1 x 1000 word article review (already drafted)

1 x 20 minute presentation (to be delivered this Friday)

1 x 5000 word research essay (drafted)

1 x 2000 word primary source review (China's 2006 space manifesto White paper)

1 x 3000 word essay on an aspect of China in the World

.....And then I've got an exam on WW2!

To be honest, I'm loving every moment of it, but regretting that I'm doing it alongside pretty-much a full-time job. Still, maybe I'll be able to turn the academic research into the job in a year or three!

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Interesting, very interesting - documentary due on television coverage of the moon landings.

There's an interesting story today on about a new documentary charting television's coverage of the moon landings. Live from the Moon debuts next month in the US - and is set for a UK release to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Apollo X1 moon landing in July.

I'm going to track down the production team to see if there's any way I can get a sneak preview....It could well be worth reviewing for Spaceflight - and including in the disso.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Good news/bad news

The Christmas break has provided some opportunity to do a bit more work on the disso - ordering a few more books; trying to get some research funding and/or finding other ways to support the proposed US trip.

A piece of good news today is that one of my pieces is set to be published in Spaceflight, with the issue due out about a month from now. Less good news yesterday was my department's announcement that it has no money to fund MA research fact it seemingly doesn't have any money at all at present! I'm still trying to get a few quid out of the grad school, but who knows if that will bear any fruit.

My alternative route is to make the research trip a working trip too and try and get a commission or two for travel writing - not easy in this economically tight market. Still, I'll keep plugging away.

I got some good feedback from a professor at the University of Texas on my application for research funding to visit the LBJ presidential library. Having been knocked back in October, I'm now much clearer on their requirements - and what lights their candle - and will probably reapply for the March/April round of grant-in-aid applications.

I've now been offered two dates for completing the disso - September 2009 for a December grading or March 2010 for a June grading. Both would still enable me to complete the Masters in time for a July 2010 graduation, but the later date offers no fall-back time if the disso goes wrong and needs to be resubmitted. I sincerely hope that won't happen, but am aiming to get the work completed by the end of this September as planned - giving me a better chance of landing some PhD funding for a late 2010 start.