Two interesting books came out this year relating to the moon. In Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program by David Meerman Scott, Richard Jurek (MIT Press, 2014), the authors give us a detailed account of the PR campaigns and subsequent media coverage of the Apollo missions. It is not only a well written book, it’s a beautiful book, full of photographs and illustrations.
Joshua Rothman in the New Yorker’s August review observes: “…If there was a central pillar to the Apollo P.R. effort, it was live television. Scott and Jurek chart the continual battle within NASA over live TV. On one side were the engineers and military types, who viewed onboard television cameras as an unnecessary addition to the mission payload, or even as an invasion of astronaut privacy. On the other side were the administrators and public-relations specialists, who argued that television was, in some ways, the point of the mission. To the pro-TV faction, the medium had an ideological meaning: when faced with opposition from the engineering team, Julian Scheer, NASA’s director of P.R., said, “We’re not the Soviets. Let’s do this the American way….CBS covered the Apollo 11 landing for thirty-two continuous hours; it set up special screens in Central Park so that people could watch in a crowd. Ninety-four per cent of TV-owning American households tuned in. Without television, the moon landing would have been a merely impressive achievement — an expensive stunt, to the cynical. Instead, seen live, unedited, and everywhere, it became a genuine experience of global intimacy.”
Then there’s No Requiem for the Space Age: The Apollo Moon Landings and American Culture by Matthew D. Trippe (Oxford University Press, 2014) which takes a more cultural view. It looks at the space program through the lens of of cultural artifact such as movies, novels, rock albums, and religious tracts of the 1960s and 70s and proceeds to analyze why support for the NASA missions decreased throughout the 70s. One of the reasons had to do with the growing conflict between the more straightlaced-rational-military/scientific culture versus the more mystical-rebellious-skeptical of authority (including scientific) counterculture. NPR’s Robert Krulwich reviewing the book in his blog, Krulich Wonders (July 16, 2014), points out another of Tribbe’s explanations which I find even more interesting (at least it’s less obvious), one that has to do with rhetoric, which he devotes a whole chapter to.
“People, he thinks, were eager to hear what it was like to escape the Earth’s atmosphere, to travel weightlessly, to touch down on an alien planet, to be the first explorers to leave “home,” and too often (much too often), the astronauts talked about these things using the same words — “beautiful,” “fantastic” — over and over. If space exploration was to be a grand adventure, it needed explorers who could take us there, tell us how it felt, explorers who could connect with those of us who can’t (but want to) come along. Inarticulateness, Tribbe thinks, hurt the space program.”
Even if your research these days has no lunar bearings whatsoever, both books look like fascinating reads.