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.